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FBI training academy plagued by sexist culture, watchdog report says

The review was launched after several women filed a class-action lawsuit in 2019 alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the FBI Academy in Virginia.

Women who attended the FBI's training program were dismissed at higher rates than men, received harsher evaluations and faced sexist remarks by instructors, according to a Department of Justice Inspector General report released Tuesday. 

The report relied on a survey and interviews of male and female trainees who attended the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, from 2015 to 2020.

Women accounted for 46% of all the trainees dismissed during that period, despite the fact that they represented only 25% of the entire group, the report shows. More than 40% of female trainees surveyed said that men received more favorable treatment during tactical evaluations and that instructors criticized female trainees more.

Half of the survey respondents said that instructors told sexist stories or jokes, according to the report.

“Creating and maintaining a training environment free from bias is critical to ensuring equal opportunities for all new FBI agents and intelligence analysts,” DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a statement.

The review was initiated after 16 women filed a class-action lawsuit in 2019 alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the FBI Academy. Ten of the plaintiffs spoke out to NBC News about the treatment they received at the training facility.

“They made me feel like I was worthless and disposable,” one of the women said in an interview.

The Office of Inspector General did not evaluate the specific allegations outlined in the lawsuit. 

The report released Tuesday found that the FBI’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Affairs had notified FBI training leadership in October 2018 of an increasing number of complaint cases and inquiries dating back to 2015.

In 2018 there was a 340% increase in informal filings to the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Affairs over the prior year. Most of those complaints involved allegations of dismissals from the training program on the basis of sex, and identified the Tactical Training Unit as a particular source of intimidation. 

The report makes seven recommendations to the FBI to improve gender equality in the training program, including additional reviews of data, collection of feedback and internal controls for tactical training to reduce the potential for bias. 

The FBI has agreed to all the recommendations, the agency said in the report. “The FBI has made gender equality a priority and has seen multiple improvements since this review was initiated," Timothy Dunham, assistant director for the FBI’s training division, said in a letter that was included in the report.

When contacted by NBC News, the FBI referred to its response in the report.

Attorney David Shaffer, who filed the class action lawsuit, said the report “substantiates our allegations in the lawsuit despite the fact that DOJ continues to fight the lawsuit with every resource available.”

“We hope this will give us some impetus to resolving the case and getting these women back into the FBI,” Shaffer added.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.