Ex-USAF officer at Guidehouse consulting firm sues former boss for alleged sexual harassment

Marion Steward
Placeholder while article actions load

This story has been updated.

A retired U.S. Air Force officer who worked at a consulting firm with more than $100 million worth of federal government contracts has filed a lawsuit, alleging in court documents and an interview that his female boss abused him while entertaining clients at District nightspots.

Kyle Reinhardt, who retired as a lieutenant colonel, accused Kim Cirka, a partner at Guidehouse, of presiding over “a freewheeling sexual culture” at the firm, the complaint says. His lawsuit also offers a glimpse into how federal consultants and other contractors woo government officials in the hopes of getting a piece of Uncle Sam’s business.

The pleading — which was filed in D.C. Superior Court on Feb. 2 — alleges that Cirka habitually harassed him, bothered his girlfriends, and flirted and engaged in other unwanted sexual behavior during social gatherings. During one night of heavy drinking, the lawsuit says, his boss sexually assaulted him.

Whenever Reinhardt complained to Cirka about inappropriate behavior, she brushed him off, making clear that Reinhardt had to “play the game” if he wanted to keep his job and advance in the company, the lawsuit alleges.

After Reinhardt helped the firm win a $110 million contract with the Department of Veterans Affairs, his importance to her diminished, Reinhardt said. That was also when she allegedly retaliated against him for having rejected her advances. His lawsuit says she marginalized him, blocked his promotion to partner and eventually forced him out.

After his termination, Guidehouse — which had been part of PricewaterhouseCoopers’s public sector business when Reinhardt was hired — refused to pay contractual severance, the complaint says.

Cirka denied any allegation of wrongdoing. She said in a statement issued through her attorney, Charles B. Molster III, that Reinhardt was a “disgruntled former employee who was terminated for performance issues and is now attempting to wage a smear campaign.”

“Ms. Cirka looks forward to clearing her good name when the true facts come out,” Molster said.

“The allegations in the complaint filed two months ago were made after Mr. Reinhardt’s employment was terminated for legitimate performance reasons,” Kelly Langmesser, a Guidehouse spokeswoman, said in an email and that “an investigation of Mr. Reinhardt’s other allegations related to alleged harassment from a number of years ago remains ongoing.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers, now known as PwC, declined to comment, spokeswoman Ellen Burr said.

Reinhardt said he felt trapped, embarrassed and yet unable to do anything about repeated abuse from Cirka because he feared that complaining might cost him his job.

“It was now like a part of a number of things that I was parking in a locked box in my soul,” Reinhardt said in the interview. “I felt really horrible. I also felt like the work that I was very passionate about doing was kind of in a very precarious place and it was an internal balance to not blow up what I had to have to be able to do that work.”’

The defendants filed motions on April 1 asking the court to stay the legal proceedings and compel Reinhardt to submit to arbitration.

Biden signs bill ending forced arbitration in sexual assault, harassment cases

The lawsuit represents a rare reversal in gender roles in sexual harassment cases. Men make up only about 3 percent of the sexual harassment victims that seek help from the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, said Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center. But they are identified 91 percent of the time as harassers.

An estimated 1 of 7 federal employees experienced sexually harassing behavior from 2016 to 2018, according to “Federal #MeToo: Examining Sexual Harassment in Government Workplaces” report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The report examines the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s efforts to combat sexual harassment and cites critics saying the nation’s estimated 4.1 million contractors may not have the same protections as federal employees when it comes to addressing workplace discrimination such as sexual harassment.

But Martin also said employees in private companies performing work for the federal government may have more protections relative to other private firms, including additional regulatory oversight by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

She reported sexual harassment by her supervisor at a federal contractor — and was terminated soon after

Reinhardt, who studied architecture at Yale, and health and urban planning at Harvard, was a senior policy adviser to the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, according to background provided in his complaint and an interview. Following his military retirement in 2012, he joined PricewaterhouseCoopers’s public sector unit, which was later spun off as Guidehouse, Inc. The trade journal Washington Technology said at the time that Guidehouse generated $509 million in revenue and employed about 1,500 people.

At least once a month, Guidehouse hosted social events at D.C. venues such as Bistrot Lepic, Martin’s Tavern, the St. Regis hotel and A Rake’s Progress, at the Line hotel. Drinks were on the company, with Cirka often springing for Château Haut-Brion and other wines that went for upward of $200 a bottle, Reinhardt said. The festivities sometimes continued with after-parties at Reinhardt’s apartment.

“Guidehouse had a work hard, play hard culture,” the complaint says. “As a government contractor, its business was based on building and developing good relationships with both the government and potential teaming partners — other government contractors who could serve as subcontractors to Guidehouse or vice versa. These relationships were greased by food and alcohol.”

In unsparing and occasionally lurid detail, the complaint identifies almost a dozen people who allegedly attended Guidehouse soirees and witnessed or participated in alleged sexually inappropriate behavior by Cirka, including Cirka’s twin sister, Kari; the former spouse of a NASA astronaut; and various federal officials. The complaint also accuses Cirka’s former deputy, Paul Bradley, of carrying on a romantic relationship with his boss and inappropriately touching one of Reinhardt’s former girlfriends after a night of partying.

Bradley, now chief technology officer at another firm, referred questions to attorney Paul Y. Kiyonaga, who characterized Reinhardt’s allegations as “false, irresponsible and salacious.” Several other witnesses named in the complaint, including Cirka’s twin sister, Kari, and the two former girlfriends of Reinhardt’s either did not respond to emails and telephone calls, or declined to comment.

Reinhardt’s complaint also says Cirka encouraged him to pay “male attention” to Melissa Glynn, a former assistant secretary for Enterprise Integration at VA, and to be receptive to any possible sexual overtures from her in the hopes of winning a VA contract. Glynn, who is now a principal at EY-Parthenon, did not return telephone calls or emails seeking comment.

Three witnesses identified in the lawsuit said in interviews that they recalled attending Guidehouse social events with Cirka and Reinhardt, but only one said he observed inappropriate sexual behavior.

“I am aware of the night he’s talking about but I did not witness any sort of that behavior,” said Summer Worden, a former Air Force intelligence officer and former spouse of astronaut Anne McClain who attended a dinner with Cirka, Reinhardt and others in April 2016.

D. Scott Guermonprez, former director of the Northport VA Medical Center on Long Island recalled thinking that Cirka’s behavior toward Reinhardt seemed over the line when Guermonprez joined them, along with Reinhardt’s girlfriend, at Buck’s Fishing and Camping in June 2017.

“I did seem surprised at the time, I guess, at the overly flirtatious way his boss was acting — that she was drinking quite a bit and seemed sort of fixated on Kyle,” Guermonprez said in an interview.

Biden promises to raise minimum pay for federal contractors

Against the background of alleged abuse was the stress of a high-stakes and ambitious workplace as Reinhardt’s team pursued multimillion-dollar federal contracts. The complaint says he earned excellent performance evaluations, including a coveted “conquered” rating. His annual salary topped out at $325,000, his attorney said.

But as Reinhardt’s standing weakened, he was cut out of key meetings and sent on the road for grueling 12-hour days and unpleasant nights in “low rent motels” (including one with “bloodstains on the furniture”), his complaint says. Two months after being placed on a performance improvement plan, Reinhardt was terminated in September 2021.

“I have not encountered a work environment quite like the one here,” said Samuel J. Buffone Jr., an attorney for Reinhardt. “The world of government contracting can often have colorful workplaces, but what we see in the actions here are really beyond the pale.”

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive monetary damages, is before D.C. Superior Court Judge Maurice A. Ross.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2022/04/19/ex-usaf-officer-sues-consulting-firm-over-alleged-sexual-harassment/

Next Post

Japan posts yawning trade gap as China exports slow | Business and Economy

The widening trade deficit highlights the vulnerability of the world’s third-largest economy to soaring import costs. Japan recorded a trade deficit in March that was more than four times wider than market forecasts, as China-bound exports slowed sharply while soaring energy prices raised the cost of imports, adding to economic […]
Japan posts yawning trade gap as China exports slow | Business and Economy