Up to 10 Yellowstone workers in the maintenance division will face disciplinary action for alleged sexual harassment of female coworkers.
These actions are the first taken in Yellowstone National Park since allegations of sexual harassment surfaced in the park—and many others, including Yosemite and Grand Canyon. Shortly afterward, investigators from the Department of the Interior Inspector General’s Office were dispatched to investigate these allegations.
This spring, investigators shared their findings, confirming widespread sexual harassment in the Yellowstone workforce, with a particular focus on the maintenance division. Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk subsequently promised action would be taken.
Now, according to the Seattle Times, Wenk has taken action:
Punishments will be proposed by Aug. 1 or soon afterward for the 10 employees and could range from reprimands to suspensions or firing, Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said. The workers can appeal before the penalties become final.
Since the harassment allegations emerged last year, park supervisors have undergone mandatory sexual harassment training. Similar training is happening this summer for all seasonal and permanent employees.
In disclosing the upcoming personnel actions, Wenk echoed prior comments of senior officials within the park service and Interior: They’re trying to change an embedded culture that has allowed misconduct to proliferate.
“I’m concerned that people understand what acceptable behavior in the workplace is,” Wenk said. “We’re setting out very clear expectations for how people comport themselves.”
Investigators found that between 2010 and 2016, six women who had previously worked in the maintenance division had faced derogatory comments or actions that made them feel uncomfortable. They said the division’s supervisor described the culture at Yellowstone as a “good old boy system” that was rampant in the 1990s but has improved over time.
The inspector general’s investigation also found that government-issued charge cards in the maintenance division had been misused.
Among other steps being taken at the park is a new policy intended to curb the misuse of alcohol by employees after hours at remote work locations. And there will be a park-wide audit of employees’ use of charge cards, Wenk said.
There’s been no indication Wenk, who became superintendent in 2011, knew about the allegations at Yellowstone and ignored them. He said he first became aware of them just before an article published last September in The Montana Pioneer.
So far, Yellowstone has been (somewhat) of an outlier among the national park system. The superintendents of Yosemite and Grand Canyon retired following the surfaced allegations. 18 employees in Yosemite came forward with allegations. Further, the superintendent of Canaveral National Seashore in Florida (another site highlighted) was put on paid leave following a spate of allegations. From the Seattle Times:
A representative of a group that advocates for federal employees said such problems remain entrenched — notwithstanding the planned actions at Yellowstone and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s pledge to show zero tolerance toward sexual harassment.
“The park service still doesn’t get it,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “Generally, the high-level managers and supervisors escape responsibility and (the agencies) are more than willing to take action against lower-level people.”