July 3, 2020 at 9:29 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Man claims U.S. Embassy in Cameroon fired him after filing sexual harassment complaint
Julius Banka (Photo courtesy of Julius Banka)

A former employee at the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon claims he was fired because he filed a sexual harassment complaint against his male supervisor.

Julius Banka in a lengthy statement he sent to the Washington Blade says he was a warehouse supervisor at the embassy in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé from February 2009 until his termination on June 14, 2018.

“In my years of work at the embassy, I was never given any reprimand, put on any performance improvement plan nor sanctioned for any reason,” says Banka in the statement. “Instead, I had several awards for good work done and was even awarded employee of the month in 2017.”

Banka in a complaint he sent to the embassy’s Equal Employee Opportunity office on May 15, 2018, alleges his supervisor, William McllWain, “wanted me to be his gay partner and when I refused, he started retaliating.”

“I am straight,” Banka told the Blade last week. “I am not a gay and I have never been a gay … I don’t want to be a gay ever.”

The EEO complaint, which Banka provided to the Blade, does not contain anything that specifically says McllWain wanted to enter into a relationship with him. Banka on Wednesday referred to the complaint when the Blade asked him to further explain this claim.

Banka in his complaint does state McllWain “admired my body build and would like for me to come teach him how to work out and be like me at his home.”

“I felt very uncomfortable with the discussion because of his gestures during this conversation and quickly told him that I do not know how to teach sports, but (I) will however look for someone who can help him out,” wrote Banka in his EEO complaint.

Banka further alleges McllWain “constantly make comments about how I had a nice body and how what I was wearing looked good on me.”

Banka provided the Blade with a June 14, 2018, letter that informed him of his termination. Banka in the statement he sent to the Blade wrote “the security officer” who “gave me the termination letter … sounded surprised to hear that there was any sexual harassment case I had filed two months before.”

“This clearly showed that he only had one objective during his investigations and that was to fire me,” wrote Banka.

Banka in his statement said he wrote to U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon Peter Henry Barlerin and the embassy’s deputy chief of mission “to explain what happened, but none of them reacted or responded to my complaint.” Banka also said the State Department’s Civil Rights Office declined to help him.

Banka notes he “took” his case to Cameroon’s Ministry of Labor “and after careful review, the ministry sent a complaint to the Ministry of External Relations.” Banka in his statement further notes “after going through my case and asking me a few questions, the Ministry of External Relations eventually sent a letter to the embassy stating my complaint and their violation of the law in November 2018.”

“Till date, the embassy has neither responded to the ministry nor made any statement,” he writes.

The State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs in a Jan. 31, 2019, letter noted Harby Issa, the embassy’s Human Resource Officer, had due cause to fire him.

“Your separation was a result of the Embassy Regional Security Office (RSO) finding that you had been involved in the theft of embassy property — a charge to which you admitted,” reads the letter. “Further, you involved one of your direct reports in this theft, resulting in that employee being disciplined, as well.”

“Though that letter of separation does not specify the reason for your separation other than to state that it was due to security reasons, you were advised orally at the time that your theft of embassy property constituted grounds for termination of your employment,” adds the letter. “It does not seem credible that this termination came as a surprise, after your own admission of this malfeasance to the RSO.”

Banka provided the Blade with the letter. He denied the allegations in a June 26 email.

“None of these claims were mentioned to me while I was at the embassy and I never admitted to theft,” Banka told the Blade. “This was completely false because I have never admitted to stealing. Stealing was only mentioned when I left the embassy.”

“All of this had to be proven when I was there and the termination letter I was given on the day of my termination had to include this,” he added. “However, this was only mentioned in the second termination letter the embassy sent a driver to my house two weeks after my termination.” 

State Department describes Banka’s allegations as ‘defamatory’

Media in Cameroon — a Central African country that borders Nigeria, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea — in recent days has covered Banka’s allegations.

The Median, a Cameroonian newspaper, on June 29 published a front page article with the headlines “A Bizarre Case of Injustice” and “USA Embassy Fires Worker Who Complained of Homosexual Harassment.” The story also contained pictures of Banka and Barlerin.

DASH TV, which is part of the ACMAR Media Group in Cameroon, whose owner has reportedly done public relations work for the Cameroonian government, has also covered Banka’s allegations.

Barlerin has previously criticized Cameroonian President Paul Biya, who has been in office since 1982.

The State Department’s 2019 human rights report notes consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Cameroon. The report, among other things, also notes “police and civilians reportedly continued to extort money from presumed LGBTI individuals by threatening to expose them.”

A screenshot of the Median newspaper’s June 29, 2020, issue.

Ndengue, a Cameroonian website, published a story with a headline in French that reads, “Terrorism and Homosexuality: The U.S. ambassador to Cameroon on trial.” Sob Fouejeu Kendjio, a Facebook user who shares Ndengue’s articles, has written several homophobic posts on their Facebook page.

“Before any debate on homosexuality in Africa, the West and the U.S. must recognize that the slave trade was a crime against humanity,” proclaims Kendijo in a June 27 post.

Kendijo in a June 26 Facebook post that contains a link to the DASH TV story on Banka’s allegations describes it as “the sequel to the homosexual harassment scandal at the U.S. embassy.”

Kendijo in a June 21 Facebook post describes the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon as a “hub of homosexuality.”

“We say no to homosexuality abuses in our country,” proclaims Kendijo.

McllWain on June 26 referred the Blade to the State Department for comment on Banka’s allegations.

“The embassy is aware of the story circulating about the dismissal of an embassy employee last year,” a State Department official on Monday told the Blade in a statement. “The accusations made in the story would be grave if true, but they are false. While we cannot respond to the allegations directly due to privacy constraints, we are both confident that due process was followed in this case and deeply concerned about defamatory attacks targeting an individual, entry-level diplomat.”

“The embassy values its Cameroonian as well as its American employees, and endeavors to create a work environment where all employees feel welcome,” added the official. “The embassy provides multiple channels through which employees can submit complaints about treatment they believe is harassing, discriminatory, or inappropriate. Consistent with Department of State policy, the embassy takes all such complaints seriously and protects employees who make complaints from retaliation.”

The official also said the embassy “supports equal rights for all people regardless of religion, race, nationality, sexual orientation, or other characteristics.”

Banka on Tuesday dismissed the official’s statement.

“I believe the embassy doesn’t respond clearly to questions asked because no due process was followed,” Banka told the Blade in an email. “As for me, I have documents that back up everything I say.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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