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Court says no to civil rights ‘dating’ claim

It’s no game for a dating claim, in a case filed by two FBI trainees who were booted from the Training Academy for their extramarital romance.

The personal right to privacy recognized under the Constitution includes marriage, procreation, contraception and the right to engage in certain intimate conduct, said an Alexandria federal court. But that didn’t mean the couple could avoid disciplinary action for breaking a rule about where trainees sleep.

Robert Stevens and Katherine Hayek were separated from their respective spouses when they entered the Academy, and made no attempt to hide their relationship. FBI Training Academy rules required trainees to sleep in their own rooms, and a search of Hayek’s room turned up men’s jeans and deodorant.

A special advisory agent told Hayek the couple’s relationship was a “poor choice,” and a “Suitability Review” found the trainees violated curfew, lacked integrity and showed poor judgment. Someone at the Academy apparently wrote “poison pen” letters telling the trainees’ spouses about the relationship. The FBI dismissed them from the program in 2011.

They sued, saying their termination from the Academy made it tough to get a security clearance and damaged their employment prospects.

During oral argument before U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee, the plaintiffs defined the right at issue as being able to “engage in a romantic relationship with whoever you choose without having a supervisor tell you it’s immoral.”

Lee said the plaintiffs tried to draw a fine line between their status as being engaged in a romance, versus their right to engage in certain conduct. There’s no clear guidance on when a romantic “dalliance” turns into a “prospective union worthy of constitutional protection,” he said.

The couple appeared to be asking the court to extend privacy protection to the decision to commence a relationship, to carve a “very particular slice … out of the privacy pie.”

“To separate the status from the activities that flow from such a status would be an inefficient and unmanageable exercise, open to a different construction depending upon how any given couple chooses to conduct their relationship,” Lee wrote.

In simpler terms, Lee said there’s no constitutional rule barring an employer from forbidding a personal relationship between governmental employees on government property.

On Aug. 16, the court granted summary judgment for the government in Stevens v. Holder.
-Deborah Elkins

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