Few federal agencies are as beloved as the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS stands for many of the core values that we value as a nation. It is the place where we seek beauty and wonder and solace. It is where we go to find ourselves. The NPS is full of dedicated men and women who love the outdoors and are fervent protectors of America’s best idea. But this beloved agency has been fraught with harassment, hostile work environments, and retaliation. It is a field, where women, have to be not just good at law enforcement, but ten times greater than their male counterparts because there is a false belief that women can’t do law enforcement, even in today’s age. This is the story of the agency that I once loved and this is the story of my harassment and hostile work environment.
I have loved the outdoors since I was a kid, and my interests in both the environment and emergency medical services (EMS) drew me to the park service. I became a Park Ranger in 2005. In order to provide EMS within the NPS, one is also required to become a law enforcement ranger. The National Park Service, is a traditionally male dominated field, particularly when it comes to the role of the law enforcement Ranger, are the first responders of the NPS.
In 2008, I found myself working at what I thought of as the epitome of being a ranger, Yosemite National Park. Little did I know what was about to happen. That summer, while driving a patrol truck, a co-worker reached over and placed his hand on my leg and said let’s play a game called “are you scared.” He then attempted to move his hand up and grab my vagina. I forced his hand off of me and told him in no uncertain terms not to touch me again. Workplace harassment didn’t stop there. After another event, I reported him to my supervisors, who gave him a written reprimand. Although this person sexually battered me, all he received was a talk from my supervisors and a note in his file.
The next year he was charged with attempted rape at another park. When the NPS investigative services branch found out what happened to me, they asked me if I wanted to press charges for sexual battery and encouraged me to do so. The perpetrator could have been charged under two different statutes, 10 USC Code 920 (C) aggravated sexual contact or Penal Code 243.4 PC, California’s sexual battery law. I declined, fearing that if my mostly male co-workers found out, they would not support me and feel that I couldn’t protect myself. Out of fear, I declined to press charges.
That same year, I received a permanent position in Yosemite jail. And I loved being a jailer. It afforded me the opportunity to work alongside the valley district learning law enforcement, doing search and rescue and EMS. But soon after joining the jail, I was singled out by one female ranger. This ranger spread rumors, including one that I was having an affair. The rumors were so pervasive, that friends from other divisions would tell me about it and warn me to watch my back with her. We often don’t think that gossip is harmful, but for me, it created a hostile work environment.
For years I put up with repeated hostile situations with this ranger. When I stood up for myself, it followed as a rule that there would be some sort of complaint filed against me by this ranger or some sort of gossip about me would spread through our staff. She would discuss what she thought was my personal life, during shift briefings, making up stories as she went. When I complained to my supervisor, I was told to just not talk with this person.
This person filed claims of wrongdoing against me, directly complaining to my chief. My chief did an informal investigation of her allegations against me and found her allegations to be unfounded. She was told to cease and desist. When my chief was promoted out of the park, the protection he afforded me, was removed. This same person then reported me for multiple violations, including having officer safety issues. In the park service, this is a death knell for a career.
The one issue, that began my worst problems with this ranger was on a traffic stop. This female ranger noticed the driver do a furtive movement towards his waistband while acting as my cover ranger. On a traffic stop, that is a clear signal that there may be a firearm. Rather than this ranger stepping in, she turned her back on the suspect, walked back to my patrol vehicle and told me what she had witnessed. I removed the suspect from the vehicle and promptly handcuffed him. Lucky for us he was not armed.
This ranger then reported me for an officer safety violation. She lied to my supervisor about what had occurred, and even though another ranger, who was also present, denied what had occurred, based on her word, I was removed from patrolling and placed in a new program for rangers to teach more officer safety skills. What the general public does not know is that park rangers receive only nine weeks of law enforcement training, prior to being allowed to work in law enforcement. Once you are hired permanent, only then are you permitted to attend the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). I had been on the waitlist to attend FLETC for 3 years. But I welcomed the challenge of the new program anyway, as, without FLETC training, I was at a disadvantage. And I wanted to do better and be better at my job.
Then this woman was hired as my supervisor and all of that new training stopped. She knew if I couldn’t attend the program, then I couldn’t pass it. The hostile work environment only increased. I was screamed at behind closed doors, and she attempted to have me excluded from work and personal events. This supervisor created a hostile environment by starting rumors about other staff members and then pitting them against one another. At one point, she told me that no one on our staff liked me.
Workplace bullying and harassment is a real phenomenon, and although the park service has Director’s Order 16E, that expressly prohibits harassment beyond the scope of just civil rights and covers verbal abuse, ridicule, insults, and comments that affect the work environment, it is rarely ever enforced. And when it is enforced, often the victim is ostracized from the park, and the perpetrators are promoted. The lack of opportunity for women, be it in the field or in promotions, pits one woman against another and in a way creates the psychological affects seen in Stockholm and Lima syndrome. My harassers were people that I felt bad for and also feared. As Kelly Martin said, “out of fear we do not come forward.”
Kelly Martin, the Chief of Fire and Aviation Management at Yosemite National Park became a whistleblower for the NPS and spoke up and out for all of the women and men who have faced harassment, rampant employee misconduct, discrimination, and workplace retaliation. Kelly Martin, spoke up for me when I did not have a voice. As Kelly Martin said, “I appreciate the opportunity you have provided for me to be the voice for many others who cannot or are unable to share their experiences due to fear of reprisal.”
Kelly’s story and my story are just one of many stories. You may wonder where I am now. I still love the outdoors. And I still love medicine. But I never took legal action. I look back at my time with the park service, with a mix of emotions. What I do know, is that Kelly Martin’s testimony changed the park service for the better. Allegations of misconduct and harassment are being taken seriously. Policies have been rewritten and enforced. Since Kelly Martin’s testimony, 1500 employees have been disciplined or fired due to harassment issues. Policies enacted are now being enforced, and that change has been a long time coming.
If you have any question about workplace bullying, harassment or retaliation call an employment attorney same as Stevens and McMillan for a free consultation