BLM responds to sexual harassment allegations
The federal government has asked a court to dismiss a sexual harassment case brought against the Department of Interior by two former campground hosts at the Río Grande del Norte National Monument.
Meda and Doru Bittermann, the former hosts, filed in May a discrimination complaint based on alleged sexual harassment and retaliation they said happened while employed by the BLM in the summer of 2017. However, the federal government asked the U.S. District Court in New Mexico to toss out the case, arguing the hosts were volunteers and not employees. Their motion for dismissal was filed Aug. 27.
The original complaint alleges Meda Bittermann was sexually harassed by Barry Weinstock, another BLM employee. The harassment included sexually related comments, jokes, propositions and unwanted physical contact, according to the complaint. She also alleges that when she reported the escalating incidents to a superior, the BLM retaliated by terminating the couple and made them leave the campground where they were living and working.
In asking the court to throw out the case, lawyers said the couple’s benefits for being volunteers, including permission to live at the Río Bravo Campground, were “simply too minor” to qualify them for employee benefits and protections.
The Department of Interior also denied the sexual harassment allegations.
A procedural hearing was set for last week (Sept. 24) but due to scheduling conflicts with the Bittermann’s lawyers, the court allowed an extension to Oct. 12 for the plaintiffs to respond to the government’s motion to dismiss their case.
This is Meda Bittermann’s second sexual harassment complaint against an employer in recent years. Bitterman also brought a complaint against the Brooklyn Law School in 2014, which she settled.