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UPDATED: OIG Finds That Sexual Harassment Continues At Grand Canyon National Park

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An investigation by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General has found that sexual harassment has continued at Grand Canyon National Park/NPS

Editor's note: This updates with a comment from Grand Canyon Superintendent Chris Lehnertz.

Grand Canyon National Park, ground zero for sexual harassment complaints in the National Park Service, continues to be plagued by such behavior, according to an investigation into a park manager alleged to have harassed an intern.

The incident, reported Tuesday by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General, ran for several months last year. The manager, who was not identified by name or position, resigned from the National Park Service last October, about a month after he was interviewed by the OIG's staff.

"Our investigation substantiated that the manager sexually harassed the intern. The manager, who was the intern’s supervisor, pursued a relationship with the intern for several months," reads the report. "The intern initially told the manager she did not want to get involved with her supervisor, but she eventually agreed to go out with him on one occasion. According to the intern, she did not go out with the manager again, but she and the manager continued to communicate through text messages until she ended the personal communication approximately two months later.

"Despite her objections, the manager continued to pursue a relationship with the intern by sending her unwelcome text messages. The intern further alleged the manager touched her inappropriately while at work after she stopped the personal communication," the report added. "The manager admitted to sending the unwelcome messages but said he did not recall touching the intern at work."

Ironically, the manager's resignation came just three days before Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a survey that showed that nearly 40 percent of the National Park Service workforce has been the victim of sexual harassment, intimidation, or discrimination.

"In the past, zero tolerance has been an empty phrase. Instead of taking real action against harassment, the National Park, some leadership, has fallen back and taken no action," Secretary Zinke said on October 13 during a call with reporters. "Clearly, there has been sexual harassment, intimidation, retaliation within the Service, and that is not in keeping of the traditions of the fine Service itself.

“I can tell you, from the president and myself, that’s over. We’re going to root out this virus, and it begins with putting a new culture forward, a culture that embraces diversity of thought, embraces teamwork, a culture that embraces the best of the Park Service values and understanding how important it is of being the stewards of our greatest treasures."

The OIG staff noted in its report that "National Park Service officials responded in accordance with DOI and NPS policy after the intern reported the sexual harassment."

Staff for Interior Secretary Zinke did not respond Tuesday to a request for a comment. Grand Canyon Superintendent Chris Lehnertz issued a statement in the afternoon to say that, "(W)hile the NPS works toward our new approach to prevent harassment in the workplace, and address it quickly if it does happen, we are also building better systems to support the victims of sexual harassment. These experiences are life and career changing, and we want to help our employees get through them with the support and resources that they deserve."

During the secretary's conference call last fall Superintendent Lehnertz said that at least nine Park Service employees at Grand Canyon had either quit or retired rather than face discipline, and two were terminated.

According to the Interior Department's survey of workforce behavior launched last year, 38.7 percent of the Park Service respondents complained about some form of harassment. Slightly more than 19 percent reported gender harassment, and 10.4 percent reported sexual harassment.

Striking about the survey results was that they were compiled during a 12-month period beginning in the fall of 2016, and showed continuing abhorrent behavior long after national attention came to an investigation depicting a long-running and sordid chapter of sexual harassment within Grand Canyon National Park, as well as after former Park Service Director Jon Jarvis pledged his agency would take a zero tolerance approach to such matters. Congress held hearings into the matter, some called for Director Jarvis to resign, and the Park Service said it would root out the perpetrators.

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Comments

Kurt,

About 39% of respndents to that survey reported they were either harassed or discriminated against in some way.  It ran the gamut from agfe discrimination (about half of the 39%) to sexual assault.  None of this is acceptable but calling it all harassment is not accuragte, either.

 


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