Federal investigators have concluded there’s “credible evidence” of sexual harassment against female employees in Yellowstone National Park.
This story first broke late September 2016, when Robert Hester, a maintenance employee, spoke with the Montana Pioneer. The news came nearly a year after similar accusations surfaced in Grand Canyon National Park and Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore. At the time, Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk told press he had learned of accusations within the Park early in September “and immediately took steps to investigate.”
Shortly after that, federal investigators were dispatched to Yellowstone. Superintendent Wenk said the investigation would look at the special projects division and expand as needed.
Now, according to the Billings Gazette, investigators from the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General have concluded that male employees subjected their female coequals to sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct “because of actions or inactions of men in charge of the maintenance division.”
In a statement, the Office stated, “We found credible evidence that male supervisors and staff in the Maintenance Division unit created a work environment that included unwelcome and inappropriate comments and actions toward women.” From the Gazette:
After conducting 100 interviews and reviewing 500 documents, investigators concluded that not all Hester’s allegations were founded, including that female employees were hired and kept for sex. Officials interviewed Hester and found that his allegations in the article were “inaccurate or exaggerated.”
There were, nonetheless, serious problems at Yellowstone, investigators reported. The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, which oversees the Interior Department is likely to take up the report.
“The behavior described in this report is unacceptable and has no place in our National Parks or in any workplace across the country,” said U.S. Sen Steve Daines, R-Mont.
Daines is the new chairman of the National Parks Subcommittee. Bozeman, Daines’s Montana hometown, is a short drive from Yellowstone. Rumblings of workplace harassment in Yellowstone have been circulating in the community for months.
“Our National Parks make our country uniquely American — but they must be a safe place for employees to work,” Daines said.” I will demand vigorous oversight to ensure there is proper accountability.”
Maintenance Division supervisors seem accepting or unaware of workplace behavior involving alcohol, according to the report.
A couple of park maintenance workers reported watching their supervisor give female employees lower back and shoulder rubs that made witnesses uncomfortable. One witness said he witnessed a supervisor grab a female subordinate’s buttocks.
The woman involved denied the event, but said she did receive back rubs at work from her boss. The supervisor said he would stand behind the woman grab her shoulders.
Asked if the touching was right or wrong, the Maintenance Division supervisor said, “Times have changed. Nowadays, yes, it’s wrong.”
According to the report, many female employees felt like their coworkers were trying to sustain a “men’s club” atmosphere in Yellowstone National Park. One Native American woman alleged that male coworkers regularly directed sexist and racist comments toward her; the woman also reported the theft of six pairs of underwear from her dresser.
One witness bluntly called Yellowstone a “man’s world” and called on officials to “wake up” about harassing and degrading culture.