Fired Professor Claims Navy Employees Have No Immunity for Harassment

A University of Idaho professor and former national defense analyst continued her fight against members of the United States Navy after they claimed sovereign immunity in a lawsuit that she filed in Maryland District Court in May 2020. Lilian Alessa sued five individuals, including Todd Boone and Edward Westfall, for harassment and retaliation.

Alessa claimed that members of the Navy engaged in sexist conduct and religious-based discrimination. This included allegations that Boone and Westfall spread lies about the revocation of her security clearance and that she was unfaithful during her marriage. The defendants tried to dismiss Alessa’s suit claiming immunity as federal employees. Alessa countered that the allegations are outside the scope of their employment.

“Making extra-marital affairs comments to other people is not the kind of conduct or part of the responsibilities which defendants were employed to perform,” Alessa said. “Such comments were also not made in order to serve the government employer.” Thus, Alessa argued that the defendants were not acting within their job descriptions, and, therefore, the scope of their employment, when they allegedly made out-of-context off-the-cuff remarks in meetings with other Navy personnel that she was fired for cause and had lied about her job qualifications.

Alessa was hired by the Navy in May 2018 as an expert in national security data analysis. Her job was to help develop a system that could identify possible national security threats. According to documents filed with the court, this brought her in contact with Todd Boone. Alessa alleged that Boone approached her and told her women should be limited in the workplace, that only he could protect women from other men in the workplace, and that he was “God’s Knight” while she was “a princess in God’s kingdom.”

Alessa reported Boone’s statements to Westfall who ordered her to work directly with Boone. Alessa alleged Westfall, a Navy captain, then began to engage in a continuous course of conduct as retaliation for her complaints. Alessa was terminated when the Navy ended the program.

In response to the defendants’ attempt to claim sovereign immunity or immunity under the Federal Tort Claims Act and substitute the federal government as a defendant, Alessa argued that Westfall made negative comments about her to legislative staff members, U.S. Coast Guard intelligence staff, a member of the Canadian Defense Forces and a member of the National Security Agency. 

Alessa claimed that the comments were not a “direct outgrowth” of the defendants’ jobs, nor did they serve the government, and that instead they constituted a violation of Navy personnel regulations. “The tactic of accusing a woman of adultery, to explain support that she received from others for her claims, and the threat to her reputation through aspersions on her sexual conduct, is an all-too-familiar attack that has no place in federal employment,” Alessa said. “It is hard to conceptualize the issue as involving something within the scope of employment.”

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