Former U.S. Embassy Staff alleges getting fired for a gay sexual harassment complaint

A Cameroonian is accusing the U.S. Embassy of unlawful dismissal after reporting a colleague who allegedly harassed him asking for gay sex. In a video uploaded to Facebook on Monday, 22nd June 2020, Julius Banka Che came out publicly to denounce the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde for dismissing him unfairly. He claims that his dismissal was an attempt to hush him after he reported this senior colleague.

Video uploaded to Facebook

Julius had worked at the American Embassy for almost ten years before getting fired two years ago. He was a Warehouse Manager, supervising inventory and overseeing store keeping among others. 

How did it all begin?

According to Julius, his troubles began with the arrival of his new supervisor, an American national called Will McIlwain. McIlwain started working at the Embassy in Yaounde as an Assistant General Service Officer (AGS) sometime in 2017.

Julius said he worked well with McIlwain until his sexual orientation became obvious. “He would compliment me on my  outfits, body build and told me he liked how I carried myself. I took them as kind compliments from a colleague, until a female colleague alerted me to the fact that the attention he was getting from McIlwain might be beyond platonic. I was oblivious to this at that point and it was an incident in March 2018 that convinced me of my colleague’s observation,” he explained. 

McIlwain according to Julius asked him many questions about previous colleagues who had worked at the Embassy including two senior members of staff who had left. McIlwain he added, approached him and said he heard from others that Julius used to socialise with one of the senior staff members who had come to Cameroon with his male partner. During this discussion, McIlwain kept invading Julius’ personal space, Julius alleged, adding that it caused him to get uncomfortable and he moved away. 

“McIlwain accosted me and tried to touch me, asking we start a relationship together. He repeatedly invited me to come over to his house to workout but I declined all the invitations. Instead, I referred him to gyms around Yaounde where McIlwain could find personal trainers to help him with his workouts,” Julius went on.

After rejecting his advances, Julius alleges “McIlwain made life untenable for me at the workplace by siding with colleagues whom he knew did not get along well with me as well as entertaining complaints from them about me and taking decisions without talking to me about them”. 

The Complaint 

After seeking redress through a complaint submitted on 15th May 2018 to the Embassy Executive Office (EEO) and the Embassy Human Resources Office, Julius claimed neither of them took action but kept reassuring him it will be fine. McIlwain’s boss, Monica Bareto, who is the General Service Officer also assured him the matter will be addressed. 

“I was left in shock a month later when on 14th June 2018, I was unceremoniously dismissed and simply told it was due to security reasons. I was asked to hand over my U.S. Embassy identification card and my security certification was revoked. “

Julius is now challenging what he calls ‘unfair dismissal’ given that due process had not been followed. His decision was motivated by the fact that he worked at the American Embassy for almost ten years and had a clean record with over 30 achievement awards to prove it – the most recent one being an Employee of the Month Award in 2017.

Unlawful termination for harassment & discrimination complaint or lawful termination for theft? 

On 31st January  2019, Julius says he was sent a letter from the Bureau of African Affairs (the office that deals with U.S. Embassies in Africa) acknowledging reception of Julius’ complaint letter dated 28th December 2018 over his unfair dismissal. The letter goes further to state the reason for Julius’ ‘separation’ with the Embassy:

“Your separation was a result of the Embassy Regional Security Office (RSO) finding that you had been involved in the theft of embassy property – a charge to which you admitted. Further, you involved one of your direct reports in this theft, resulting in that employee being disciplined as well. It does not seem credible that this termination came as a surprise, after your admission of this malfeasance to the RSO “. 

Julius maintains he admitted no such thing to the Regional Security Officer: “This is an excuse the Embassy was using to get rid of me instead of sanctioning McIlwain, the American citizen who made my life impossible at work“.

MMI reached out to the employee (name withheld) who reported to Julius and was implicated in the incident, to verify the story on the theft but they refused to comment. MMI learnt the employee was given an 8 days suspension for not reporting the alleged theft by Julius. 

Two weeks after he was dismissed and given the first termination letter, Julius says a driver was sent to his home with a second termination letter from the Embassy Human Resource. “If the Embassy was following due process, why would they send me two termination letters?” he asked.  

He also sought to know why he was sacked without due disciplinary procedures.

Julius says his claim is supported as the investigator who was brought in from the U.K. by the Washington EEO Office, advised him not to sign the second letter because it will most likely not reflect the real issues.

“I was advised to get a lawyer by the said investigator but I informed him that I could not afford one. The investigator told me the investigation will not give me any remedy because I was not an American citizen. I was also told that were I an American citizen, my case would have been fully investigated and I would get the maximum compensation,” he explains.

The second termination letter was sent to Julius by the Bureau of African Affairs in Washington DC and is dated 26th June 2018. According to this letter, investigations into Julius’ alleged misconduct started on 4th May 2018, two weeks before he submitted his complaint and six weeks before he got fired. The U.S. Embassy states that the second termination letter was amended by the Embassy Management to respond to Julius’s claims of unlawful termination. 

This letter stated that Julius got fired for: “unauthorised use of the United States property, equipment and vehicle; Theft of United States Property and Unauthorised use of status. The letter further states that Julius broke section V of Employee Responsibilities and Conduct of the Embassy’s Locally Employed Staff Handbook”.

The letter explains that following investigations, Julius “…admitted to swapping old phones for the Peace Corps’ phones to profit financially.“ 

Also, it highlights that during the investigations, it was confirmed that Julius had “…engaged in selling wooden (Household Effects) HHE crates to one temporary Embassy worker for 25,000frs CFA.“ The Embassy in the letter added that he used the Embassy vehicle to transport the HHE crates, thereby giving grounds for effective termination as the U.S. Embassy expects and requires that all staff uphold the highest standards of honesty and conduct. 

Julius vehemently refutes admitting to theft when the Regional Security Officer approached him about this case. Hear him: “I mentioned in my complaint of 15th May 2020 that two phones had gone missing during an auction, the reason being that a lot of mistakes were made throughout the process which was not solely attributable to me. I believe my immediate supervisor, McIlwain used this as an excuse to get me fired“.

He said: “The letter that was sent to me had grievances I had never heard of. If truly those were the reasons for my termination, then why was it not included in the first letter? How can someone who has bagged home several awards for excellent work, someone who has never had a sanction be suddenly fired without any warning?” 

“Everything was going on well while I was at the Embassy until I reported a sexual harassment and discrimination case to the Embassy EEO office against my American supervisor (Will Mcllwain). Why was no action taken against my supervisor when I reported the case? One month after my report, I was terminated for reasons I still cannot comprehend,” Julius explained further. 

Colleagues React

According to Julius’ colleagues, he was a stellar employee, a hard worker and loved by most including his superiors for his work ethic. However, there was talk of Julius having debt issues. 

MMI asked Julius to comment about this and he responded that “I had indeed taken a loan from the bank which was guaranteed by the Embassy… most employees did the same and therefore I saw no reason why it suddenly became an issue that somehow is related to my  character”. 

USA Embassy Response to Unfair Dismissal Allegations

MMI approached the U.S. Embassy to find out if due process and investigations were conducted concerning the allegations of sexual harassment?

Leanne Cannon, the U.S. Embassy Spokesperson was careful with words while commenting on the subject:

“Because the Embassy follows strict rules to respect the privacy of our employees and former employees, the Embassy does not comment on the circumstances of specific individuals’ employment.”

“The accusations made in the story would be grave if true, but they are false. The Embassy values its Cameroonian as well as its American employees and we endeavour to create a work environment where all employees feel welcome. The Embassy provides multiple channels through which employees can submit complaints about treatment they believe is harassing, discriminatory, or inappropriate. Consistent with Department of State policy, the Embassy takes all such complaints seriously and protects employees who make complaints,” Leanne added.

The Foreign Affairs Manual of the Department of State, which governs Embassy administration, Leanne states “prohibits termination of employment made because unwelcome sexual advances were rejected “.

Leanne went on to say the Embassy however handles such complex topics with utmost severity. “We also prohibit retaliation against any employee who complains about harassment or discrimination. Supervisors – American and Cameroonian alike – are prohibited from having even consensual relations with those they supervise. The day after his arrival in December 2017, Ambassador Barlerin told assembled staff that he would not tolerate harassment or bullying of any kind “.

What Next for Julius?

Julius says that for the past two years, his life has been hell. The UBA bank to which he owes some money is on his case requesting he honours his loan engagement. But he had taken the loan with his job at the Embassy as the only guarantee.

“Despite letters to the American Ambassador – Peter Henry Barlerin, to his Assistant, the Management Officer of the Embassy, Human Resource Bureau of the African Affairs in Washington; the response has been that the decision is binding. I was told to desist from contacting them as only the in-country Embassy could resolve my issue ” he notes. 

Julius has been to the Cameroon Ministry of External Relations. The Ministry sent a letter to the American Embassy requesting that the issue of severance pay and damages for wrongful dismissal should be addressed given the first letter of termination indicated no fault by Julius. Till date, ” no response has been received from the Ministry on this, ” he told MMI. 

After exhausting his options, Julius decided to go public with the video on Facebook, stating that he feels the entire world is corrupt. 

“One thing I have known is that Americans promote human rights, ensuring that people know and have their rights. But behind the scenes, they are the ones violating the rights of others. If America can treat me like this then where can I run to?” he asks.

“According to labour codes, if you want to terminate someone from their job, you need to allow them to face up to the accusations against them. I never had any of that but received a sudden termination letter. What I do know is that one month before my termination I submitted a sexual harassment complaint,” emphasised Julius.

The U.S. Embassy maintains their decision is compliant with the Cameroon Labour law which allows for dismissal without severance pay if an employee is found guilty of theft of employer property.

© Mimi Mefo Info

+(237) 6791 35573 contact@mimimefoinfos.com Donate

Related Articles

Back to top button
Close