The Ends Don’t Justify the Means

Sex in the workplace is a risky proposition at best. Between employees with different status positions, sexual relations are even less wise. When unwelcome or coerced, workplace sex is also illegal. While there’s room to debate whether Tooke acted illegally or broke workplace rules (I don’t think he did) by having consensual sex with a subordinate and supporting her professional advancement, there’s no disagreement that doing so showed very poor judgment. Because Tooke hasn’t been Chief long enough to know whether he’d be missed, I’m ambivalent about his continued tenure.

I’m more concerned with the collateral damage the retired Southern regional forester has done to the government’s confidential system for resolving sexual harassment and other employee-related conflicts and complaints. Ten years ago, the regional forester was Tooke’s superior, as far above him as he was above the employee he was sleeping with. She learned the facts of the Tooke affair, including the disciplinary action taken (a verbal reprimand — not good enough in her view) in the course of her official duties. The fact that Tooke received a reprimand at all is a confidential personnel matter. The fact that the Forest Service investigated Tooke’s sexual activities is a confidential personnel matter. Personnel information of this type is protected by law from disclosure. Whether retired or not, the regional forester had no right to disclose this confidential information to a U.S. Senator. That she could face criminal prosecution or civil damages for doing so is her brief, not mine.

It’s not just Tooke who has been harmed by the regional forester’s zeal to punish a Forest Service bad boy. The “young lady” she expresses concern for has had her privacy violated, too. The “young lady” did not ask to be a pawn in the regional forester’s #metoo tell-all. The “young lady” did not seek to out her former lover, nor did she claim harassment or harm. The government, and its agents (whether retired or not), are barred statutorily and constitutionally (4th Amendment) from investigating her intimate sexual relations or disclosing those facts to a politician or news media.

In her zeal to get Tooke, the regional forester has damaged the cause she claims to believe in. She has impeached the credibility of the Forest Service’s solemn promise that every employee’s personal and confidential information will remain secret — not spread all over tabloid pages, the halls of Congress, or this blog.

I await willieboat007’s response.

9 Comments

    • I think most people agree on some things and disagree on other things. For reasons mostly associated with gaining power, there are those of us who would like to put us in camps where everyone agrees on everything. Progressives , Republicans, environmentalists, loggers and so on. I think that keeps us from seeing the richness and complexity of the human soul, experiences and values, and is absolutely and essentially bad for public policy. That’s why this blog is my resistance without the hashtag. PS apologies if that sounded pulpit-esque.

  1. We can’t have something everyone agrees on …

    Balancing individual privacy and public right to know is always difficult, and personnel policies skew heavily towards privacy. But maybe now is a good time to reconsider policies that help perpetuate behavior that is no longer acceptable.

    We also all know of hiring decisions that were made for apparently or arguably “non-merit” reasons. In my experience, the Forest Service could do a better job of explaining both its policies and their application regarding what is “merit.” (This is a whole nuther topic, but there was some overlap here.)

  2. Maybe part of the current problem is that the “vetting process” was not inclusive enough. Maybe administrations considering appointing Chiefs should have an anonymous place for folks to email serious issues about candidates. Maybe this should be the case for political appointees as well.

  3. “I’m more concerned with the collateral damage the retired Southern regional forester has done to the government’s confidential system for resolving sexual harassment and other employee-related conflicts and complaints. Ten years ago, the regional forester was Tooke’s superior, as far above him as he was above the employee he was sleeping with. She learned the facts of the Tooke affair, including the disciplinary action taken (a verbal reprimand — not good enough in her view) in the course of her official duties. The fact that Tooke received a reprimand at all is a confidential personnel matter. The fact that the Forest Service investigated Tooke’s sexual activities is a confidential personnel matter. Personnel information of this type is protected by law from disclosure. Whether retired or not, the regional forester had no right to disclose this confidential information to a U.S. Senator. That she could face criminal prosecution or civil damages for doing so is her brief, not mine.”

    This statement is not supported by my simple read of the article “A U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesperson issued a statement denying the charges; the USFS is part of the USDA.“Tony Tooke has a clean personnel record and there is nothing in his employment record reflecting complaints against him of this nature.”” A verbal reprimand is not a disciplinary action and would not have been in a personnel record. Therefore

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *