Seven former and current female wildland firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service have filed a complaint against the Department of Agriculture alleging that they suffered job discrimination, harassment and sexual abuse at the hands of male co-workers and that top agency officials failed to stop it.
Below are excerpts from an article in the New York Times:
…The women said the complaint, the first step in a potential class-action lawsuit, was filed late last month on behalf of hundreds of women who worked in the Forest Service’s Region 5, which encompasses more than 20 million acres in 18 national forests in California. The seven women who are the lead complainants said they faced retaliation when they reported the offenses to superiors.
The complaint was the latest in a number of race and gender disputes in the Agriculture Department, the parent agency of the Forest Service. In recent years the department has settled a class-action suit brought by Native American farmers, offered payments to Hispanic and female farmers who alleged discrimination and approved a $1.15 billion settlement with black farmers, decades after the farmers said that they were denied loans and subject to racial discrimination in agriculture programs.
In response to the firefighters, a Forest Service official said the agency would review the complaint and was focused on correcting any problems. “The Forest Service takes these and all allegations of civil rights violations very seriously and is committed to providing a work environment that is free of harassment and discrimination,” said Lenise Lago, the Forest Service’s deputy chief of business operations.
[One of the current complainants, Alicia] Dabney said that her supervisor, who is still employed by the Forest Service, put her in a chokehold and tried to rape her in 2012. In another instance, she said, fliers with the words “Alicia Dabney is a whore” were left on the floor of the fire station.
She said that after she reported the harassment, the Forest Service fired her in 2012, citing what her superiors said was her failure to disclose her past criminal record on her job application. Ms. Dabney said that the agency had long known about her record and that “this was dredged up after I complained.”