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National Park Service under fire over its handling of sexual harassment

When most of us think of the National Park Service, the federal agency tasked with preserving “the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations,” we probably envision an almost idyllic workplace with serene settings, exciting duties and enlightened co-workers.  

Unfortunately, a series of recent investigative reports by the Interior Department has revealed this is not quite the case, depicting an agency mired in scandal and largely unresponsive to the serious complaints of its employees. 

By way of illustration, consider the report released by the Park Service’s watchdog back in January outlining how female employees working as river guides at the Grand Canyon were repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment by their male co-workers.

Indeed, the investigators found that this pattern could almost inconceivably be traced back for more than a decade with the complaints filed by the female employees going almost entirely ignored.

Fast forward to just a few weeks ago and the Interior Department released yet another shocking report.

This one detailed how the chief park ranger at Canaveral National Seashore here in Florida was found to have sexually harassed three women on his staff in less than 24 months, yet continued to work at the park despite losing his commission and a pattern of previous malfeasance.

Fortunately, this ongoing failure on the part of the Park Service to adequately address employee complaints, or discipline/terminate those employees who engage in sexual harassment has not gone overlooked by Congress.

Indeed, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis was recently called to the carpet by the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, where he was castigated by frustrated lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

“Three substantiated allegations and he still works there?” said the committee chair of the Canaveral National Seashore park ranger named in the report. “What does that say to the women? Your leadership is lacking. You’re failing the system.”    

While Jarvis conceded that his agency has had problems, he indicated that it was now reinforcing its zero tolerance message to all staff members. To that end, he testified that an anonymous survey will soon be sent to all 22,000 employees — full-time, seasonal and temporary — to learn more about just how pervasive sexual harassment is within the ranks.

For their part, the lawmakers seemed unconvinced and it will be interesting to see whether stronger measures are taken to address this problem going forward.

Stay tuned for updates …

If you’ve been victimized by sexual harassment, you can hold those who behind the conduct and those who ignore your complaints responsible for their actions. To learn more, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional. 

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