BLM re­sponds to sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions

The Taos News - - ENVIRONMENT -

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.

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