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Here's What You Need to Know About Sexual Harassment Within the National Park Service

by Hayley Goerisch Sep 30, 2016

THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE (NPS) HAS BEEN CELEBRATED as America’s greatest idea and because of the centennial, it’s received its fair share of news this year. However, despite the celebration, much of this news about the NPS has been negative. The centennial has brought to light a number of sexual harassment and hostile work environment cases.

Let’s take a look at how “America’s greatest idea” treats its female employees.

The Grand Canyon River District

In January 2016, an investigative report into the conduct of the Grand Canyon River District discovered evidence of long-term sexual harassment and a hostile work environment in the Grand Canyon National Park’s Grand Canyon River District. According to this report, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell received a letter requesting an investigation into the behavior of employees in the Grand Canyon River District. The letter cited 13 incidents of sexual harassment, including inappropriate propositions, groping, and up-skirt photographs, over a period of 15 years. The complainants stated male employees would respond in a hostile manner when their sexual advances were rejected. Some women described being deprived of food, being yelled at by a man wielding an ax and being refused rides to work sites.

According to this same report, two of the three men involved in these alleged incidents were disciplined. The boatman accused of taking an up-skirt shot of a female NPS worker received a 30-day suspension. The boatman accused of grabbing a female employee’s crotch received a 10-day suspension. The third boatman involved in these incidents received a written reprimand for sexual propositioning a female employee. All three men have since left the NPS: two resigned before 2013, and the other retired in 2015.

In the course of this investigation, the U.S. Department of the Interior identified 22 other individuals who witnessed or experienced sexual harassment and a hostile work environment while working in the Grand Canyon River District. In a statement to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform on September 22, 2016, Michael Reynolds, acting Deputy Director of Operations for the NPS, reported a new park superintendent has replaced Dave Uberuaga, the superintendent at the time of the sexual harassment incidents, at Grand Canyon National Park; the river district is currently closed and undergoing reorganization; and the park is taking action to hold employees accountable for misconduct (the details of which were not revealed in the report).

Canaveral National Seashore

On the opposite side of the nation is Canaveral National Seashore. Located on Florida’s eastern shore, this undeveloped beach is a sanctuary for a number of plants and animals. In June 2016, Canaveral National Seashore came to the nation’s attention for another reason: sexual harassment.

In an investigative report by the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General, the top law enforcement officer at Canaveral National Seashore, Edwin Correa, showed a five-year pattern of sexual harassment toward three female employees. He repeatedly attempted to engage these women in conversations about sexually explicit films, gave unsolicited compliments on their physical appearance, asked subordinate employees on dates, and called a female employee on her personal cell phone outside of work hours.

In one specific event, Correa asked a female employee to accompany him to a volunteer’s house to help with Christmas decorations. After straightening up the Christmas tree, Correa asked her to follow him upstairs. She followed believing there to be more Christmas ornaments and decorations. When they entered a room upstairs, he began programming the television, and she tidied up a computer table near the door. While her back was turned to Correa, he grabbed her shirt and belt. Putting his arms around her waist, he turned her around and attempted to kiss her. She moved her mouth away and the kiss landed on her cheek.

According to the female employee, Correa pointed to the bed and made a suggestive remark. She pushed him away and went downstairs. A few minutes later, he followed and they both got in the car. They never mentioned the incident to each other again, but she did describe it to the Canaveral National Seashore superintendent after he learned about it from an anonymous source. The superintendent removed this woman from Correa’s supervision, and in February 2016, she filed a formal complaint with the local police department. As of the release of the June 2016 report, the criminal investigation was still pending.

The Department of the Interior’s report states that Correa denied trying to kiss the employee with the intent of later sexual intercourse. He denied pointing to the bed and making suggestive remarks. He acknowledged he should not have been alone with a subordinate female employee in a bedroom. In the aforementioned report by Deputy Director of Operations Michael Reynolds, it’s stated that Correa is no longer working at Canaveral National Seashore. An article in the Washington Post states Correa is currently working from home and still receiving his $83,000 a year salary. This was not corroborated in Reynolds’ report.

Further Investigation and Steps Moving Forward

These two investigations brought numerous sexual harassment and accountability issues to light. Currently, Yosemite National Park is under investigation by the Office of the Inspector General following their expedited inquiry in August. According to an article by the Washington Post, an investigation will start next week at Yellowstone into sexual harassment allegations. As of July 20, 2016, all national park supervisors and employees received mandatory online sexual harassment training and a service-wide survey into harassment is underway.

Jonathan Jarvis, Director of the NPS, espouses a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment. However, issues of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment for women is not new for the national parks. Sixteen years ago, the NPS was part of an investigation by the Women in Law Enforcement Task Force. This report revealed systemic issues of accountability, under-representation of women in the national park’s law enforcement sector, and discrimination when women came forward with reports of sexual harassment. The report outlined multiple recommendations to be implemented by 2005.

It’s now 2016 and none of them have been implemented.

Moving forward, the NPS will work to better integrate an Equal Employment Opportunity Office into the service. It’s currently updating its sexual harassment reporting policy, which will make it mandatory for all sexual harassment inquiries to be completed within 14 days. New training on sexual harassment, workplace harassment, and workplace discrimination will roll out in 2017.

It will be interesting to see in the upcoming months and years if the NPS will even follow through on this zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment. As more individuals come forward with allegations, our beloved national parks might be getting a different kind of publicity than they were expecting in their centennial year. And that might be a very good thing for the women who have worked within the NPS since its founding 100 years ago.

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