Report charts history of abuse at Grand Canyon

January 13, 2016 6:46 am

 The
report obtained comes after 13 current and former Grand Canyon
employees filed a complaint saying women had been abused over 15 years.
Photo / iStock

A new report by a federal watchdog outlines a history of harassment
on river trips through Grand Canyon National Park in which male park
employees allegedly propositioned female colleagues for sex, touched
them inappropriately and made lewd comments.
The report obtained
by The Associated Press comes after 13 current and former Grand Canyon
employees filed a complaint in September 2014 saying women had been
abused over 15 years. It was released Wednesday by the Department of the
Interior’s Office of Inspector General.
About a dozen people
have faced disciplinary action for sexual misconduct since 2003, ranging
from a written reprimand to termination. But investigators say those
actions are inconsistent, and many alleged incidents go unreported or
aren’t properly vetted by supervisors.
One longtime human
resources official interviewed by investigators said a “laissez faire”
attitude exists of “what happens on the river, stays on the river.”
Grand Canyon officials until recently allowed river rafters to bring
alcohol on the trips.

A National Parks Service spokesman said the agency has zero tolerance for the behavior cited in the report.
“No
NPS employee should ever experience the kind of behavior outlined in
the report, and it is even more disappointing because previous efforts
to change the culture at the River District of the grand Canyon failed
to improve working conditions,” NPS spokesman James Doyle said in an
email. He said the agency is mulling more changes, including requiring
nightly check-in calls, having a supervisor on every river trip and
establishing an ombudsman.
Grand Canyon National Park manages 280
miles of the Colorado River, providing emergency and medical services,
as well as guiding researchers, politicians and students on a dozen
river trips per year. Co-workers spend lengthy stretches together within
the canyon’s towering walls, camping on the river banks and cut off
from the rest of the world. A satellite phone typically is available for
emergencies only.
The report does not identify any of the park
employees, boatmen or contract workers by name. It focuses solely on
trips run by Grand Canyon National Park. Commercial and private, or
self-guided, river trips are conducted through different systems.
Incidents
of sexual harassment on the national park trips included a boatman
photographing an employee under her skirt, a supervisor grabbing a
contract employee’s crotch and park employees twerking during a dance
party as a river trip was wrapping up, according to the report.
The
Park Service’s Intermountain Region director Sue Masica, Grand Canyon
Superintendent Dave Uberuaga and his deputy, Diane Chalfant, told
investigators they were well aware of the history of alleged sexual
harassment on the river and said the agency tried to change the culture.
Masica said alcohol consumption seemed to play a part.
A change
in the river district’s standard operating procedures in May 2014
restricted the use of alcohol to off-duty hours but was amended last
year to bar alcohol at any time during river trips. Everyone also has to
listen to a briefing on proper behavior. The person who is managing the
project on the trip now can remove participants who aren’t following
the rules.
The Office of Inspector General said it had not conducted any similar investigations at other national parks.
An
investigation conducted by the Interior’s Equal Employment Opportunity
office in 2013 looked into some of the same sexual harassment complaints
outlined in the 2014 letter. Uberuaga said he did not consult with
human resources or park managers about disciplining employees named in
that report because it indicated that any failures weren’t “actionable.”
A human resources officer with the Park Service’s Intermountain Region
said the EEO investigation had several issues that required corrective
action.
In separate management advisories, the Office of
Inspector General criticized the Park Service on its hiring practices
and for not safeguarding the identities of the people who filed the
complaint in 2014. The letter was released to at least two people who
were subjects of the complaints.
“NPS must respect the
confidentiality of individuals who report sexual harassment by not
revealing their identities to others who do not have a legitimate,
work-related need to know,” wrote Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall.
The
Park Service also allowed a former Grand Canyon river district employee
who resigned after being disciplined for repeated sexual harassment and
misconduct to work elsewhere in the agency, including as a volunteer on
a 2010 river trip, Kendall said.

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