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Women have filed complaints about sexual harassment and assault in the U.S. Forest Service since the 1970s. But three of those women, who sat down with the PBS NewsHour as part of an investigation into the agency’s culture, say not only have those issues not improved, but women also face retaliation when they report inappropriate behavior.
Firefighters Darla Bush, Jonel Wagoner and Darlene Hall filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2014, claiming sexual harassment of and retaliation against women in the Forest Service in California. They detailed the harassment and gender discrimination they faced on the job, along with the ensuing retaliation they said followed after reporting incidents.
“I can give a direction in the very exact same words that a man can but when I say it I’m not allowed to say it. It’s perceived differently,” Bush said.
On Thursday, the United States Department of Agriculture released a report that said the Forest Service should improve its process for investigating claims of sexual harassment and misconduct. It came the day after Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke, facing an investigation into his own conduct, announced he was stepping down.
Wagoner and Hall were hired in the 1980s, after the Bernardi consent decree, the result of a class action lawsuit against the agency. It required the Forest Service to increase the number of women among its California staff to 43 percent, roughly the same percentage of women in the civilian workforce at the time.
Today, about a third of Forest Service employees are women. On fire crews, the gender disparity is worse: 6,633 employees are men, and 890 — 13 percent — are women.
Wagoner worked 37 seasons for the Forest Service before retiring last year. By the end, “I lost my supervision. I lost my job. I lost my credibility. I lost my everything,” she said.
Bush and Hall still work for the Forest Service.
Watch an edited version of their conversation with PBS NewsHour correspondent William Brangham above.
The PBS NewsHour’s Elizabeth Flock and Josh Barajas reported for this story.
Lorna Baldwin is an Emmy and Peabody award winning producer at the PBS NewsHour. In her two decades at the NewsHour, Baldwin has crisscrossed the US reporting on issues ranging from the water crisis in Flint, Michigan to tsunami preparedness in the Pacific Northwest to the politics of poverty on the campaign trail in North Carolina. Farther afield, Baldwin reported on the problem of sea turtle nest poaching in Costa Rica, the distinctive architecture of Rotterdam, the Netherlands and world renowned landscape artist, Piet Oudolf.
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