Sexual Harassment in the Forest Service- What Would You Do?

Let’s take a look at this Congressional testimony by Lesa Donnelly. Here are some claims she makes:

  • Region 5 is equivalent to the rest of the Forest Service
  • The problem is more or less the same across land management agencies
  • In the Obama administration, political leaders were responsible for the different reactions (the difference between Vilsack and Jewell)

We have been reporting egregious incidents of sexual harassment, work place violence, discrimination, and reprisal to Secretary Vilsack since 2009 to no avail. Forest Service investigations invariably are turned against the employee reporting incidents. Reprisal is swift and severe. There are very few instances of accountability for the perpetrator. In fact, perpetrators often receive what we call “disciplinary promotions.” Before any cultural change can occur, the agency must acknowledge the scope of the problem and be willing to make a good faith effort to address it. USDA and Forest Service have been unwilling to do this despite mountains of evidence of harassment, discrimination and reprisal against women, people of color, and people with disabilities

For this series of posts, I’d like to focus on sexual harassment alone rather than the broader world of discrimination.

It is important to point out that Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Congressman Peter DeFazio, and Congressman Raul M. Grijalva wrote a letter to USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong in November 19, 2014. They were highly concerned about the sexual harassment, attempted sexual assaults, gender discrimination, and whistleblower retaliation against women in Region 5 of the Forest Service. They asked for an investigation. As of this date, no investigation has occurred.
There are two clear indicators that the USDA and Forest Service are unwilling to acknowledge the pervasive and endemic discrimination against women and minorities. First, the comments made this year by Chief Tidwell are indicative that the Forest Service has no true intention of preventing and eliminating the discrimination against female employees. After the Huffington Post article on the Grand Canyon and Region 5 women was published this past summer, Chief Tidwell sent an email to all Forest Service employees, referring to it and telling the employees that the incidents were, “older allegations.”

Then, less than a week ago, Chief Tidwell had an all employee “Webinar” meeting. He referred to the recent Washington Post article and this Hearing, again stating that our claims are, “older allegations.” These public comments are Chief Tidwell’s continuing attempts to minimize the serious civil rights incidents that he is fully aware of, and to undermine our efforts to have them acknowledged and addressed. Yes, some of the incidents occurred awhile ago, but he failed to state that these employees are still being harassed and are still in the EEOC system because of continued reprisal and the agency’s absolute refusal to settle EEO complaints.

I recommend reading all the testimony. I wonder what Secretary Jewell did and how successful that was?

While there is much room for improvement in her response to the issues, I commend Secretary Jewell’s quick call for an investigation, the investigator’s professional interviews and data gathering, the transparency of the process and results, and Secretary Jewell’s decision to open up the investigation across the Park Service.

Maybe all the FS needs to do is emulate that? How could we find out how well it worked?

I also took a look at the military to see if they’d figured it out. Apparently they have not, even in terms of assaults, according to this and this story. Despite the fact that they (have an entire system set up to deal with them that looks much more sophisticated than the FS or USDA, here.

If I were Chief, I would get a team led by a strong advocate with high visibility and access, possibly the Associate Chief. I would get groups of victims, supervisors of harassers, and the frontline Employee Relations, EEO, and HR people together and listen carefully to what they had to say about how to stop this. What would you do? Feel free to share your own stories, and what you think might have helped. Also, if you would like to write something longer about your ideas, email it to me and I will post it.

11 Comments

  1. The federal civilian workforce has seen a substantial drop in reports of sexual harassment since 1994, according to the Merit System Protection Board, from 44% (1994) to 18% (2016) of women reporting a harassing event in the preceding two-year period (men dropped from 19% to 6%). Too much, but heading in the right direction.

    Off-topic, sort of, here’s my favorite Forest Service culture/gender story. In the late 1980s, forest activists held annual strategy meetings at Oregon’s Breitenbush hot springs resort, a private retreat center in the middle of the Willamette national forest. One evening, I went for a soak where I was pleased to join a dozen naked women socializing. Not recognizing them from the activist conference, I asked what had brought them to Breitenbush. “We’re Forest Service botanists,” one responded, “here on our annual get-together to discuss plants.” A fine time was had by all.

    • For 44% to REPORT harassment is almost incredible to me (in 1994). Because at the time, and still today, there are women and men who are harassed but have carefully estimated the risks and rewards of reporting and have decided not to report it. So we have no clue as to the ratio of occurrences to reports.

      18% is fairly close, as you would know, to 1 in 4. Today. We’ll have to see how the FS numbers stack up when all the NBC Dateline FOIAs are in. Hopefully they will release the results publicly.

      Great story. Should have spent more time hanging with botanists..
      In contrast, I got in trouble with my boss at a genetics meeting because we visited the OSU bookstore, looking at technical books. Straight was the gate and exceedingly narrow the way, back in the day..

      • From E&E News….

        https://www.eenews.net/eenewspm/2018/01/23/stories/1060071719

        Grand Canyon manager sexually harassed intern — IG

        Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter
        Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2018

        A National Park Service manager at Grand Canyon National Park sexually harassed an intern and then abruptly quit amid the ensuing investigation, officials revealed today.

        The harassment included unwelcome text messages and an alleged incident in which the manager touched the young woman “inappropriately,” according to the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General. The manager, who was the intern’s supervisor, had pursued a relationship with her for several months.

        “The manager admitted to sending the unwelcome messages but said he did not recall touching the intern at work,” the IG recounted in a brief summary of the case.

        The manager subsequently resigned from the Park Service on Oct. 10, about one month after being interviewed for the investigation. The manager is not named, or otherwise identified, in the summary.

        The newly revealed investigation is the latest to identify sexual harassment and other workplace problems at the National Park Service and other Interior agencies, which are currently undertaking various reform efforts.

        A survey released in December found that 35 percent of Interior employees surveyed reported having been harassed or discriminated against over the past year (Greenwire, Dec. 14, 2017).

        More than 16 percent of employees surveyed said they had experienced gender-based harassment.

        But only one-quarter of the Interior employees who say they experienced gender-based harassment or discrimination over the past year said they filed a written or oral complaint. When asked why not, 41.7 percent explained they thought they “would be labeled as a troublemaker.”

        Even more, 46.5 percent, said they didn’t report the alleged gender-based harassment or discrimination because they “did not think anything would be done.”

        The Grand Canyon intern, though, did report what had happened. In her case, investigators say, the system appeared to work, at least in part.

        “Our investigation also found that National Park Service officials responded in accordance with DOI and NPS policy after the intern reported the sexual harassment,” the IG stated.

        According to investigators, the Grand Canyon intern initially told the manager she did not want to get involved with someone who was her supervisor, but she eventually agreed to go out with him on one occasion. They continued to communicate through text messages until she ended the personal communication about two months later.

        “Despite her objections, the manager continued to pursue a relationship with the intern by sending her unwelcome text messages,” the IG recounted. “The intern further alleged the manager touched her inappropriately while at work after she stopped the personal communication.”

        A broader IG investigation of misbehavior at Grand Canyon, released in 2016, was prompted by a complaint by 13 former and current NPS employees who had worked in the Grand Canyon’s River District and had alleged discrimination, retaliation and a sexually hostile work environment over 15 years (Greenwire, Jan. 12, 2016). The IG substantiated many of the complaints.

        “It’s up to all levels of management to ensure that our employees have a healthy work environment that empowers them to be productive and effective for the American people,” Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a memo last month. “And if managers are the problem, we will deal with them.”

        In the mid-December memo, Bernhardt directed all bureau and office heads to develop and submit a formal action plan within 45 days to address their specific survey results. Those plans will include a schedule for accomplishing those actions.

        • My poor boss was a Timber Staff of the old school. In the cloudy rear view mirror of history, it must have been difficult to manage people completely unlike yourself with different values and experiences. But whatever clashes or discriminatory issues we had, sexual harassment never entered into it. For that I am forever thankful.
          As to your Dad, a look in that rear view mirror.. wow! We couldn’t have imagine CRISPRs.

          • My favorite old-school timber beast experience dates back to the early 1980s when I was Associated Oregon Loggers’ lobbyist. BLM had launched its forest planning effort with public meetings. I attended the first in Roseburg. Over 150 men filled almost every seat in the room. Two empty chairs remained, flanking the only woman in attendance. Being tardy, I sat next to her. We chatted quietly during breaks. I learned she was a lobbyist for Defenders of Wildlife.

            The next day my boss called me onto the carpet. The BLM district manager (equivalent in rank to FS forest supervisor) had called him to report that I had been seen consorting with the enemy. The BLM manager explained that kind of behavior was dangerous and would not be tolerated in BLM buildings.

            I had been caught red-handed breaking the unwritten Code of Conduct! I threw myself on my boss’ mercy with a lame excuse that I hoped would garner his sympathy, “She was good looking!” Sympathetically, he nodded, and said “Next time, Andy, take it across the street to a bar.”

            • Ahh.. the old days, full of unwritten Codes of Conduct, people talking about you behind your back, and bosses calling you on the carpet.

              I think today there are still unwritten, spatially and temporally dynamic Codes of Conduct (apparently not always applied). People talk about you behind your back, but bosses possibly less willing to call you on the carpet for fear of entering the Misunderstanding/EEO Complaint Vortex of Doom, especially if you’re a Diverse Person or a female. I wonder whether sometimes helpful suggestions are not made because of this, and the DP’s and females lose out (again). Kind of a Catch 22.

  2. Andy’s story is neither amusing or appropriate. If those botantists were there on the govt dime as was Andy, no matter how innocent, that behavior should have been grounds for dismissal. It also is the kind of behavior that is witnessed by the knuckle-draggers whom engage in harassment and they think then their behavior is acceptable and welcome.

    • Frank, thanks for this thought. We need to be open about what we think and feel or we will get no farther in this discussion than the agency has.

      For me, this goes back to “conduct” because it’s off-hours. In some societies, that would be OK and others not. Suppose the women were dressed and drinking with reforestation contractors- is that appearance of conflict of interest (if they are FS people but not the COR nor inspectors?). To me, the problem with “conduct” is that it is a function of societal norms of which there are dozens in a large agency (what works in DC might not in rural Utah), and what can end up happening is that it can be used in what appears to be a random fashion as a weapon in interpersonal conflicts aka vendettas.

  3. U.S. Federal Government
    Zero Tolerance Sexual Interaction Policy
    Effective Date 1/25/18

    1) Any un-monitored interaction between employees/contractors or customers of opposite sex must be agreed to in writing in advance absolving each other of any liability. Said document will be kept in a safe which is only accessible to by independent third party audit contractor. Absent any such agreement, all interactions must be chaperoned by an independent third party auditor who will be castrated or have ovaries removed if they miss something as will be the violators of the zero tolerance sexual interaction policy. Surgery will be done without any form of sedation.

    2) Any one allowing themselves to come in contact (physically or through any form of communication) with a fellow employee/contractor/or customer of the opposite sex other than under the proscription of item #1 above will be subject to castration or removal of ovaries whether they are the accuser or the accused should any charges of sexual impropriety arise within the lifetime of said individuals.

    3) All employees/contractors will be required to wear helmets with multi-directional cameras and microphones 24 hours a day (i.e. 24/7/365 for employment/contract duration). At the end of each work day a group of independent third party auditors will review the tapes of the last 24 hours looking for all interactions of obvious or vague innuendo and inappropriate contact. Any inappropriate activity will result in immediate castration or removal of ovaries with whatever tools are on hand. Decisions of the third party auditors are final and are not subject to any legal right of appeal. Removal of helmet or equipment failure at any time (during or after work hours) while employed or under contract will be deemed to be an admission of guilt and will result in the immediate discipline outlined in item #1 or #2 above.

    We are here to help. Please be assured that your federal government will do a much better job of looking out for you than even God. Please come forward with any complaints. Proof/evidence is not required. Your word is our bond and we will act immediately to carry out disciplinary action for any charges that you can think of whether the damage was imagined or real.

    Failure to agree, in writing, to these requirements on the effective date of this policy or subsequent employment date will result in immediate termination and listing on the national sex offenders registry. Infractions discovered after employment/contract term is terminated by either party are subject to the same penalties as if the individual(s) were still employed or under contract.

    Policy Summary
    If you want to exercise your sexual freedom outside of marriage. Look outside of the U.S. Federal Government.

    Exceptions to above policy:
    1) Retroactively: All past U.S. Presidents
    2) Grandfathered: U.S. President as of 1/25/18
    3) All future U.S. Presidents
    4) Anyone that enviros, using their “motivation detection” superpowers, deem to be pure in heart and action.

    1st Revision to this policy as of 1/25/18: All instances above using the phrase “opposite sex” shall be changed to “opposite or same sex” in order to protect against any homophobia lurking in the U.S. Federal Government which is now a “Safe Place”.

    I fully understand and agree to all of the above requirements without any reservations. I have entered into this binding agreement of my own volition and have not been coerced to sign this agreement.

    Print Name of Employee or contract employee: __________________________ Date: ___/___/_____

    Signature of Employee or contract employee: __________________________ Date: ___/___/_____

    Print Name of Employee Supervisor or federal contract supervisor: __________________________ Date: ___/___/_____

    Signature of Employee Supervisor or federal contract supervisor: __________________________ Date: ___/___/_____

    1st Witness Signature: __________________________ Date: ___/___/_____

    2nd Witness Signature: __________________________ Date: ___/___/_____

    3rd Witness Signature: __________________________ Date: ___/___/_____

    4th Witness Signature: __________________________ Date: ___/___/_____

    Signature of independent Notorious Public: __________________________ Date: ___/___/_____

    Seal of Notorious Public:

Leave a Reply

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