Yel­low­stone cracks down on sex­ual ha­rass­ment

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Matthew Brown

BILLINGS, MONT.» As many as 10 work­ers in Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park’s main­te­nance di­vi­sion will be dis­ci­plined af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion found fe­male em­ploy­ees were sub­jected to sex­ual ha­rass­ment and other prob­lems.

The move comes as wide­spread re­ports of ha­rass­ment, bul­ly­ing and other mis­con­duct have tar­nished the im­age of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice and its par­ent agency, the U.S. In­te­rior Depart­ment.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have un­cov­ered prob­lems at many of the na­tion’s pre­mier parks — Yel­low­stone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Canaveral Na­tional Seashore — as well as in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior to­ward fe­male em­ploy­ees by the In­te­rior Depart­ment’s for­mer di­rec­tor of law en­force­ment.

A re­port on sex­ual ha­rass­ment at Flor­ida’s De Soto Na­tional Memo­rial, which is run by the park ser­vice, was re­leased this week by an em­ployee ad­vo­cacy group that got the doc­u­ment through a pub­lic records re­quest.

At Yel­low­stone, the In­te­rior Depart­ment’s Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral launched its in­ves­ti­ga­tion last year, af­ter a park em­ployee com­plained to a lo­cal mag­a­zine and mem­bers of Congress that a per­va­sive “men’s club” en­vi­ron­ment had en­cour­aged the ex­ploita­tion and abuse of fe­male work­ers.

The in­spec­tor gen­eral’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion also found that govern­ment-is­sued charge cards in the main­te­nance di­vi­sion had been mis­used. Yel­low­stone SuThe per­in­ten­dent Dan Wenk said the pun­ish­ments stem from both ha­rass­ment and charge-card mis­use but de­clined to be more spe­cific, cit­ing em­ployee pri­vacy.

The re­view was shared with park of­fi­cials on March 13. More than four months later, the per­son­nel ac­tions will be handed down and could range from let­ters of coun­sel­ing or rep­ri­mand, to sus­pen­sions or fir­ing, Wenk said. The work­ers can ap­peal be­fore the penal­ties, to be pro­posed by Aug. 1 or soon af­ter­ward, be­come fi­nal.

A let­ter of coun­sel­ing is not con­sid­ered a dis­ci­plinary ac­tion, Wenk said.

Since the ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions emerged last year, park su­per­vi­sors have un­der­gone manda­tory sex­ual ha­rass­ment train­ing. Sim­i­lar train­ing is hap­pen­ing this sum­mer for all sea­sonal and per­ma­nent em­ploy­ees.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors found that be­tween 2010 and 2016, six women who pre­vi­ously worked in the main­te­nance di­vi­sion had faced deroga­tory com­ments or ac­tions that made them feel un­com­fort­able. They said the di­vi­sion’s su­per­vi­sor de­scribed the cul­ture at Yel­low­stone as a “good old boy sys­tem” that was ram­pant in the 1990s but has im­proved over time.

The park is tak­ing other steps, in­clud­ing in­sti­tut­ing a new pol­icy in­tended to curb the mis­use of al­co­hol by em­ploy­ees af­ter hours at re­mote work lo­ca­tions. And there will be a park-wide au­dit of em­ploy­ees’ use of charge cards, Wenk said.

There’s been no in­di­ca­tion Wenk, who be­came su­per­in­ten­dent in 2011, knew about the al­le­ga­tions at Yel­low­stone and ig­nored them.

The su­per­in­ten­dents of Yosemite and the Grand Canyon re­tired in re­cent months fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ments.

At least 18 Yosemite em­ploy­ees came for­ward with al­le­ga­tions, and work­ing con­di­tions were said to be so bad that they were la­beled “toxic.” At the Grand Canyon, male em­ploy­ees re­port­edly preyed on fe­male col­leagues, de­manded sex and re­tal­i­ated against women who re­fused.

su­per­in­ten­dent of Canaveral Na­tional Seashore in Flor­ida was put on paid leave last year amid al­le­ga­tions that the park’s for­mer chief ranger, Ed­win Cor­rea, sex­u­ally ha­rassed three em­ploy­ees over five years.

At De Soto Na­tional Memo­rial in Braden­ton, Flor­ida, a fe­male em­ployee re­ported that a male em­ployee in­ap­pro­pri­ately touched her and made un­wanted com­ments nu­mer­ous times, ac­cord­ing to a Feb. 6 in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port ob­tained by Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees for En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The em­ploy­ees’ names were redacted.

The re­port said the case was re­ferred to fed­eral prose­cu­tors, who de­clined to pur­sue charges.

The head of the em­ployee ad­vo­cacy group said the dis­clo­sure of the De Soto in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­der­scored that such prob­lems re­main en­trenched de­spite the planned ac­tions at Yel­low­stone and In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke’s pledge to show zero tol­er­ance to­ward sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

“The park ser­vice still doesn’t get it,” ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Jeff Ruch said. “Gen­er­ally, the high-level man­agers and su­per­vi­sors es­cape re­spon­si­bil­ity and (the agen­cies) are more than will­ing to take ac­tion against lower-level peo­ple.”

Zinke spokes­woman Heather Swift said the ac­tions at Yel­low­stone re­flect that lead­ers of in­di­vid­ual parks feel newly em­pow­ered to con­front ha­rass­ment.

“His (Zinke’s) lead­er­ship will cre­ate a cul­ture where peo­ple are val­ued for their work and not dis­crim­i­nated against,” Swift said.

Robert Graves, As­so­ci­ated Press file

Bi­son graze near a stream in Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park in Wy­oming.

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