A senior African American supervisor at the Seattle office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will receive $450,000 and get a private meeting with the agency’s director to settle a civil-rights lawsuit alleging the agency retaliated after she complained of racial harassment by another supervisor who has a Nazi tattoo.
In addition to the cash payout, Cheryl Bishop, a senior supervisory agent in Seattle and former bomb-dog handler, will receive a ring commemorating a previous assignment as the first female member of the ATF’s Special Response Team (SRT). The ring will be presented to Bishop during a meeting with ATF Acting Director Regina Lombardo.
Bishop filed her lawsuit in 2018, alleging the agency scuttled her prestigious appointment to work at its Washington, D.C., headquarters after she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint against fellow supervisor Bradley Devlin, the bureau’s resident agent in charge in Eugene, Oregon.
According to court documents, Devlin has worn a Nazi-themed tattoo — showing what’s described as a “German Eagle SS Lightning Bolt” — since the early 2000s. He says he got it while working undercover to infiltrate an Ohio white-supremacist biker gang called The Order of Blood. That operation led to several arrests.
Though his bosses have said they were “appalled,” Devlin hasn’t had the tattoo removed. The agency has said it would pay for the procedure.
Devlin could not be reached Monday and has not previously commented on the lawsuit.
Devlin’s tattoo, along with a series of emails sent from his ATF account mocking black people and then-President Barack Obama, were at the heart of Bishop’s lawsuit. Devlin was Bishop’s supervisor in Seattle from 2009 to 2011 and she alleges he has continued to disparage her work since. The Seattle Field Division of ATF oversees offices in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Hawaii and Guam.
Bishop’s lawsuit got traction in September when U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly summarily denied a government motion to dismiss her claims and ordered the case to trial this month.
“While I am grateful to put the lawsuit behind me, healing the emotional scars will take more time,” Bishop said in a prepared statement. “What happened to me should never happen to anyone, anywhere. Since harassment, discrimination, and retaliation are alive and well, I encourage anyone who encounters them to speak out — that’s the only way change happens.”
April Langwell, an ATF spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said the bureau has no additional comment on the settlement. She reiterated that employees who engage in conduct that might adversely affect the public’s perception of the agency or impact its integrity or professionalism are subject to discipline, but she would not say whether Devlin was disciplined. She said he remains employed by the ATF.
Bishop joined the ATF in 1989, but left in 2003 to act as personal bodyguard for Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. She returned in 2009, when she was assigned to a gun-crimes task force headed by Devlin, according to court documents. She later went on to be a bomb-dog handler.
In Bishop’s lawsuit, she says the agency abruptly decided she could no longer be a K-9 handler if she took a one-year assignment and promotion to work in the ATF Science and Technology division, after previously telling her she could do both.
Bishop has since retired her bomb dog, Allegra, and has been promoted as supervisor of the Seattle division’s Crime Gun Intelligence Center.
The government says in court filings a decision was made that Bishop could not do both jobs at the same time.
Bishop says the agency’s about-face came just weeks after she had filed an EEOC complaint in May 2016, alleging racial harassment by Devlin, after he purportedly told a federal prosecutor in Oregon that he questioned Bishop’s experience as a street agent and said she would be a “train wreck” if assigned to the Eugene office. Bishop claims it was the latest in a series of conflicts between the two, including an incident in 2009 when Bishop says she confronted Devlin after he sent racially offensive emails using an ATF email account to several agents in the Gang Group, including Bishop.
“As the only woman of color in our group, these emails publically humiliated me,” she wrote in a sworn declaration.
One email, included with the lawsuit filings, shows a black woman talking through a telephone handset to a black man behind a glass partition in prison, with a Santa Claus and reindeer superimposed. It states, “Merry Christmas from the Johnsons.”
When Bishop confronted Devlin about these and other purportedly offensive emails, she claims he told her to “get the hell out of my office,” and came around the desk with his fists balled. In other instances, she claims Devlin had disparaged her as being “bossy,” “worthless,” “contemptuous,” and a “not-aggressive worker” — all comments the lawsuit alleges “stereotype black women.”
In another instance, after Devlin yelled at her about the use of her agency vehicle, Bishop says “she found a banana placed on the hood of her car in her new parking spot next to Devlin’s spot — a racist symbol of viewing Black people as monkeys,” the lawsuit alleges.
Bishop learned of Devlin’s Nazi-themed tattoo in 2009, when she was assigned to a group he supervised. The large tattoo on his left arm depicts an eagle bearing twin lightning bolts — a stylized “SS,” which Bishop acknowledged in a deposition is a reference to the brutal Schutzstaffel, Hitler’s notorious secret police responsible for murdering millions of Jewish citizens and ethnic minorities during World War II.
She said she complained to another supervisor at the time after a confrontation with Devlin, but nothing was done, although Devlin was transferred to Oregon not long afterward. Bishop says that she saw Devlin show off the tattoo in public, including at a retirement party for an agent in 2011, where she says he rolled up his sleeve and showed other colleagues “while eyeing (Bishop) with a grin.” He has said he views the tattoo as a “war trophy” from his undercover work.
After the agency learned that Devlin still had the tattoo and had sent the emails, the ATF withdrew his pending promotion to the agency’s Internal Affairs division. As a result, Devlin has claimed in a letter to ATF that he is being discriminated against “based upon my race” because he expressed his opinion about Bishop’s qualifications.