Senior immigration official resigns amid misconduct allegations

WASHINGTON Sat Sep 1, 2012 9:02pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior appointee at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, stepped down on Saturday amid allegations of discrimination and sexual misconduct lodged by an employee.

Suzanne Barr, chief of staff to ICE Director John Morton, resigned, the agency said. She was cited in a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by a senior ICE official in May.

In the lawsuit, James T. Hayes Jr. alleged that he had been passed over for a high-level position within the agency in favor a less-qualified woman, and detailed allegations of "sexually offensive behavior" by Barr directed against male subordinates.

The lawsuit alleged Barr "created a frat-house type atmosphere ... targeted to humiliate and intimidate male employees." Among claims were that she called a male subordinate at his hotel room "screaming" she wanted to perform oral sex on him.

Barr denied the allegations.

In a resignation letter to Morton, Barr said she had been the "focus of unfounded allegations" designed to destroy her reputation, and was stepping down to "prevent further harm to the agency."

"With time I am confident that the truth will prevail. The allegations against me are unfounded and without any merit, and I am confident that my reputation will be restored," Barr wrote in the letter obtained by Reuters.

Brian Hale, director of public affairs at ICE, confirmed that Morton had received Barr's resignation "We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors," he said.

Barr began working at ICE In 2009. She was named as chief of staff for the immigration agency by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona governor.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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