F.B.I. Training Instructors Punish Women, Not Men, for Mistakes, Complaint Says

WASHINGTON — Danielle Snider was sailing through her training to be an F.B.I. agent last year, passing her fitness, academic and firearms tests. Then came the last phase: training on tactics like entering a house and confronting an armed attacker.

Ms. Snider, an Air Force Academy graduate, stumbled. In one day, instructors at the F.B.I.’s sprawling facility in Quantico, Va., wrote her up four times. With less than two weeks to go before graduation, she was bounced from the course in January.

But in one instance, a man in training with her made a similar mistake and it was overlooked, she said. It was part of a pattern, she and other women who failed out of the academy said, in which instructors — almost all men — scrutinized them more closely because they were women and treated men differently when they erred.

“Everyone is making mistakes,” said Ms. Snyder, 30, who found another job with the federal government as an investigator. “I felt it wasn’t the same playing field for women. I think it is fundamentally unfair.”

Ms. Snyder is among a dozen women who accused the F.B.I. of gender discrimination at its training academy, detailing their allegations in a complaint last month to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. One of the women also claimed she suffered discrimination because of her race, and another because of a disability.

Ms. Snider, along with nine of the other women, washed out of the academy during the tactics training. Some continue to work for the F.B.I. but not as agents.

“Female trainees are singled out in group tactical exercises because they are perceived as being weak and prone to failure,” they wrote in the complaint. “Male trainees are provided multiple avenues for success, in spite of their errors. Male trainees are often permitted to retake tactical exams when female trainees are denied the opportunity to do so.”

The F.B.I. declined to comment on the complaint. In a statement, the bureau said it was “prioritizing advertising and recruiting aimed at women both nationally and through the 56 field offices.” The F.B.I. also said the percentage of applicants to be agents who were women had increased, from 22 percent in the fiscal year that ended in September 2017 to 26 percent the following year. It hopes to reach 33 percent over the next year.

For years, the F.B.I. has struggled to add more female agents. Women composed only a fifth of the bureau’s 13,500 agents as of October. About 44 percent of the F.B.I.’s 35,000 employees are women.

The F.B.I. has set goals to hire more women but made no recruitment plan, the Justice Department inspector general found in a June report on gender equity in federal law enforcement from 2011 to 2016. In response, the F.B.I. noted “a mild increase in female applicants” but acknowledged that the total was “still short of our stated goal.”

The F.B.I. will continue to fall short unless it tackles the issues the women outlined in their complaint, said David J. Shaffer, a lawyer for the women.

“It is hard enough to recruit adequate numbers of women for these positions,” Mr. Shaffer said. “This destroys the F.B.I.’s ability to even come close to a representative population, and makes a joke of their diversity goals.”

The real starting point for new agents begins in Quantico, about an hour’s drive from Washington. Just getting accepted as a new agent is difficult; only 6 percent of applicants are accepted for basic training, which typically lasts about 20 weeks. The tactical training includes scenarios at Hogan’s Alley, a mock town at the academy.

“The training at Hogan’s Alley is not easy,” said Kurt Crawford, a former F.B.I. employee who worked with the training division at Quantico for 30 years until his retirement in April. “It’s some of the most realistic training. It pulls together everything you’ve learned. You’re forced to make tough decisions.”

Hogan’s Alley has cost otherwise-qualified recruits a shot at being an F.B.I. agent, he said, calling it “the final proving ground.”

Many recruits have backgrounds in the military and law enforcement and know how to handle a gun. Ms. Snider attended the Air Force Academy, was commissioned as a second lieutenant and spent another four years in the military. She then worked as analyst for the National Counterterrorism Center but was eager to work in the field and conduct investigations. She decided to become an agent and landed in Quantico in September 2017.

Until tactics training, she seemed likely to graduate. Ms. Snider was told she was near the upper ranks of her class of 150 people. Her peers selected her as her class representative, she said.

But then she ran into the tactical course. Among instructors’ complaints: During an exercise at Hogan’s Alley, she unnecessarily escalated a situation with an actor; she was too slow to come to the aid of a partner held at gunpoint; and she nearly holstered an empty weapon — a no-no in the F.B.I.

She also fired at a knife-wielding attacker at a bar but failed to take into account bystanders who could have been wounded, the instructors said. Ms. Snider said that she saw a classmate, a former Army Green Beret, react similarly during the same scenario but that he was not faulted.

An F.B.I. board, made up of several men and one woman, dismissed her from training in January for a lack of tactical judgment.

Ms. Snider said she had lost interest in the F.B.I. because of her experience. “When a woman makes a mistake at the F.B.I., she’s incompetent,” she said. “When a guy makes a mistake, it is just a mistake.”

According to the F.B.I., 24 percent of the new agents in training this year were women.

Like her classmate Ms. Snider, Terah Gaertner, a lawyer, passed the first three phases of training before she struggled with tactics. In one instance, her gun jammed and an instructor said she took too long to clear the weapon. The instructor said she showed a lack of judgment.

During a separate exercise, instructors criticized her for failing to shoot an armed suicidal actor quickly enough. The actor was holding a gun to his head but no one else’s. In a third episode, an instructor said she had shot an actor in the back in Hogan’s Alley during an exercise simulating a drug bust. Ms. Gaertner disputed the circumstances of the shooting.

Ms. Gaertner said she was kicked out of new agent training in early February, two weeks before she was supposed to graduate. “I was shocked,” Ms. Gaertner said. “I didn’t expect it.”

The F.B.I. recommended her for another job conducting unarmed surveillance. She did not get it.

Instructors in the other courses were supportive, Ms. Gaertner said. Even while boxing or grappling with bigger and stronger men during training, she said, “there was not an air women had to prove themselves.” The same applied with firearms training, the women said.

Some of the women who filed the complaint said they encountered repeated problems with tactical instructors. They are almost all men, given no guidance and can target any recruit for dismissal, according to the complaint.

“The subjective evaluations by these male instructors results in female trainees being written up and subsequently dismissed at a rate significantly and disproportionately higher than their male counterparts,” the complaint said.

Paula Bird, 30, a lawyer who remains with the F.B.I. in Miami, said she was on track to graduate in May 2018 until the tactics course. She was written up seven times for a lack of judgment and misapplication of deadly force, among other things.

“Seven is high,” she said. “I’ll be the first to admit that. But others weren’t written up for some of the same things.”

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