They reported sexual harassment. Then the retaliation began


Michaela Myers said she was first groped by her supervisor after a crew pizza party last summer, shortly after starting a new job as a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service. She was 22 and excited about the job. She had worked out diligently to prepare for the season, running and hiking with a heavy pack. She is from the Pacific Northwest, and had always loved the outdoors and a challenge.

She remembers her supervisor, Drew DeLozier, a Forest Service veteran, offering her beers at a crew member’s house after dinner. He told her he was glad she was on the crew because she was “sexy” and had “a nice ass,” she said. According to her account, he led her to a couch, rubbed her butt as she sat down, and slid his hand between her legs. Myers was shocked and upset, but didn’t stop him. She had heard from other crew members that DeLozier could fly off the handle, and didn’t want to make a scene.

“You don’t feel like you can say ‘no’ loudly to your supervisor,” she said. “I keep looking back on it and wishing I could have just punched him or something.”According to Myers, the harassment and groping continued for the rest of the summer. When she confided in a fellow crew member, he told her this was an unfortunate reality for a female firefighter. She had a choice, she recalls him saying: report it and face retaliation, or do nothing and stay in fire.

But in September, after the end of her three-month season in Oregon, Myers had enough. She reported the harassment to the United States Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service’s parent agency. In October, she provided a sworn statement to a USDA investigator detailing all the allegations. At first, Myers found the Human Resource department’s response encouraging. She was optimistic action would be taken. But two months later, the Forest Service sent her a letter that said the investigation was complete, no misconduct had been found, and the case was closed.

Myers was furious.

“This means they don’t believe me that I was sexually harassed,” she said. “Or they don’t care.”

When reached by phone, DeLozier, who still works for the Forest Service, said he was made aware of the allegations. “I was cleared of all wrongdoing,” he said.‘We all live in this fear’
Harassment of women in the Forest Service has been a problem for years. As far back as 1972, women have joined together to file class action complaints and lawsuits about gender discrimination and sexual harassment. More recently, in 2016, a congressional hearing was held to address the problem within the Forest Service’s California workforce, which had also been the focus of previous complaints. The PBS NewsHour investigated what’s happened since then, and found the problem goes much deeper. READ MORE

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