The U.S. Forest Service has a long-standing reputation for its “boys’ club” culture, making it a difficult and often hostile place for women to work. Problems of harassment at the Forest Service are well known and as far back as 1972 there have been class action complaints and lawsuits about gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Now the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Tony Tooke, has stepped down following a two-part investigative report by PBS. After part one aired, the USFS announced that Tooke’s prior behavior was under investigation. Days after part two ran, Tooke announced his resignation in an internal email.
The PBS investigation discovered that despite oversight such as a congressional hearing in 2016 on problems within the California branch of the Forest Service, the culture of sexual harassment is deeply ingrained at the USFS. Women interviewed by PBS included current and former Forest Service women from 13 different states. All 34 women described workplace bullying, gender discrimination, sexual harassment and assault by co-workers and supervisors. Many claimed they experienced retaliation after they reported incidents; many others did not report what happened to them out of fear of retaliation.
Culture of Intimidation
Fear was common among the women who agreed to be interviewed. Some of the women asked to remain anonymous because of fear of further retaliation. They reported retaliation in the form of negative performance reviews, demotions, verbal threats, and bullying notes. The worst harassment occurred in the wildland firefighting division where the gender disparity is the greatest, with women accounting for only 13 percent of the workforce.
Unlike employees in the private sector who can file discrimination complaints directly with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), federal employees like those in the Forest Service must first go to their agency’s EEO counselor. The counselor starts an investigation and then decides together with the agency how to proceed with the complaint. Federal employees may appeal the decision to the EEOC or choose to pursue their case in federal district court.
Ultimately, the process for reporting incidents at the USFS is long, complicated and can take years. Outcomes bear little or no results proving to perpetrators that there will be no consequences for harassment and bullying. One woman who worked on an elite team of firefighters heard a male colleague say “The only thing that EEO taught us is that we can get away with anything.”
The Forest Service created a harassment reporting center in November 2017 with a toll-free hotline and has instituted a uniform program of sexual harassment training that will take effect later this year. A statement from the agency about the investigation into Chief Tooke’s conduct said that it takes “very seriously the responsibility to promote a safe, respectful, and rewarding work environment for all employees.”
Marlton Sexual Harassment Lawyers at McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. Advocate for Victims of Workplace Harassment
If you have experienced discrimination or harassment at your place of work, you have a right to be heard. Speak to a dedicated Marlton sexual harassment lawyer at McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C.. to discuss your legal options. Our experienced team will fight to obtain justice and compensation on your behalf.
Call our Red Bank office at 732-842-6500, our Marlton office at 856-985-9800, our Newark office at 973-878-9040, or contact us at 888-396-0736 or online for a free consultation. We represent clients throughout New Jersey.