Women Allege Harassment and Abuse on Forest Service Firefighting Crews

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From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Current and former female firefighters of the United States Forest Service have filed a complaint with the Department of Agriculture alleging that they suffered job discrimination, harassment and sexual abuse at the hands of male co-workers and that top agency officials failed to stop it.

The women said the complaint, the first step in a potential class-action lawsuit, was filed late last month on behalf of hundreds of women who worked in the Forest Service’s Region 5, which encompasses more than 20 million acres in 18 national forests in California. The seven women who are the lead complainants said they faced retaliation when they reported the offenses to superiors….

One of the current complainants, Alicia Dabney, a former firefighter in the Sequoia National Forest in Centerville, Calif., said in an interview that she was the subject of repeated verbal abuse and physical taunts. “It was a frat boy atmosphere,” said Ms. Dabney, who was usually the only woman on her 20-person crew. “You are often isolated because where you work is so remote.”

Ms. Dabney said that her supervisor, who is still employed by the Forest Service, put her in a chokehold and tried to rape her in 2012. In another instance, she said, fliers with the words “Alicia Dabney is a whore” were left on the floor of the fire station.

She said that after she reported the harassment, the Forest Service fired her in 2012, citing what her superiors said was her failure to disclose her past criminal record on her job application. Ms. Dabney said that the agency had long known about her record and that “this was dredged up after I complained.”….

The current gender discrimination complaint is similar to ones filed in the 1970s and 1990s by female workers in Region 5 who said they were denied promotions and harassed by male co-workers. As part of the settlements stemming from those complaints, the Agriculture Department required the Forest Service in California to hire more women and to put in place civil rights enforcement programs, sensitivity training and a unit to investigate and resolve sexual harassment and hostile environment claims.

Read the entire article here.

8 Comments

  1. Guy, it looks like that article is in 2012 and about females in Region 5 (initiating an EEOC complaint)i, while the above article is about female firefighters (also in Region5 ?). I wonder what happened with the 2012 EEOC complaint?

    • Sharon, see the reply to Ms. Cleeland below – Alicia’s complaint was settled by the Agency.

      This class which was recently filed (August 29, 2014) is a new one, specifically for the class of Female Firefighters located in Region 5, California of the Forest Service.

      Many male firefighters are also suffering abuse, discrimination and retaliation, it’s not *just* women – especially those men who stand up for the women, or befriend them, or try to assist them. But it is a much higher percentage of women who deal with this.

      The level of abuse toward women, including rape, attempted rape, other forms of sexual abuse, disparate treatment, denial of promotions (usually given to men who are part of the “Good Ol’ Boy network) and severe and pervasive retaliation for speaking up about *anything* is so egregious as to be almost unbelievable.

  2. I read this story in the New York Times last weekend and sighed, Region 5 again…. I dealt with my share of complaints, and after the Department took them over, they were willing to settle even the most dubious ones, especially if a certain attorney was involved, which was disheartening. Unfortunately for Dabney, it appears that she had a criminal past that she did not disclose on her application and which somehow escaped a background check. That is the easy way out for the agency. But, she did keep the phone message from her supervisor (linked from the article Guy posted). I found it shocking and it should have led to her supervisor being fired or disciplined at the very least. I guess that’s the lesson these days, get the evidence on tape. I hope the truth will out.

    • Just for clarification, Alicia did disclose all of her past to the Agency. They/It were well aware. The *second* background check they did was illegal.

      We would be very interested in the name of the attorney of whom you speak. (If you’re willing, you can send a private email about it.)

      The Agency did settle Alicia, for a very large amount, based on the extreme harassment, sexual abuse and retaliation she suffered.

  3. I should have known better than to wade into this based only on a couple of newspaper articles. It’s a shame that this stuff is still going on, and I hope that justice prevails for everyone involved.

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