America’s National Parks: Great place to visit but not a great place to work.
WYOMING – The image of the National Park Service and the U.S. Interior Department may forever be tarnished due to recent reports of sexual harassment, bullying, and other unlawful misconduct.
Between 2010 and 2016, as many as 10 workers in Yellowstone National Park’s maintenance division were found to have subjected female employees to sexual harassment and other unlawful conduct, including gender discrimination. The Interior Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that a “good old boy system” existed in the park and men were “very dominating.” Supporting this conclusion were the findings that a Yellowstone supervisor admitted telling a subordinate that he wasn’t going to hire any women in 2016; supervisors had tolerated employees drinking on the job; and that a maintenance division supervisor admitted to touching a female employee on the arms, shoulders, and back, even though, he said “Nowadays, yes, it’s wrong.”
The findings of the OIG’s investigation were shared with Yellowstone officials on March 13, 2017. Now, more than four months later, disciplinary actions are finally being handed down. The workers have the opportunity to appeal their punishments. Additionally, training on discrimination is being provided over the summer for all seasonal and permanent employees.
Federal law protects both women and men from harassment based on that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.
For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. Both the victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex. While the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
Yellowstone National Park was not the only park investigated. Investigators have uncovered problems at many other of the nation’s premier parks, including Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Canaveral National Seashore. Moreover, the investigation found inappropriate behavior toward female employees by the Interior Department’s former director of law enforcement. Additionally, 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.
The superintendents of Yosemite and the Grand Canyon retired in recent months following allegations of unlawful sexual harassment and hostile work environments. At Yosemite, around 18 employees came forward with complaints about working conditions which were so bad that they were labeled “toxic.” At the Grand Canyon, male employees allegedly preyed on their female coworkers, demanded sex from this woman, and retaliated against those who refused.
The superintendent of Canaveral National Seashore in Florida, Myrna Palfrey, was forced to go on paid leave in 2016 amid allegations that the park’s former chief ranger and supervisor, Edwin Correa, sexually harassed three employees over five years. Correa agreed to perform 50 hours of community service to resolve a misdemeanor charge after he was accused of kissing and touching another ranger against her will. Eventually, the park terminated Correa in May 2017.
Moreover, the Interior Department’s law enforcement director, Tim Lynn, retired this spring after investigators disclosed in February 2017 that he had displayed a “pattern of unprofessional behavior” by touching and hugging female employees and making flirtatious comments. Jeff Ruch, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) explained that “The park service still doesn’t get it… generally, the high-level managers and supervisors escape responsibility and (the agencies) are more than willing to take action against lower-level people.”
Hopefully, these crackdowns will make a difference. In time, perhaps more employees will be brave enough to step forward to report unlawful treatment within their workplace so that anyone who preys on their coworkers or employees are held accountable. Only then will there be a noticeable change in the embedded culture that has allowed misconduct to proliferate.
The experienced New York City sexual harassment attorneys at the Derek Smith Law Group have years of experience litigating sexual harassment in the workplace. If you have been sexually harassed at the workplace, please give us a call at (800) 807-2209 for a free consultation.
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