February 9, 2016
Author: Bobbi K. Dominick
An illustrative investigation recently hit the news. The January 2016 Washington Post headline reads: “Female Park Service employees say they were harassed on Grand Canyon trips.” The article details an extensive investigation undertaken about operations at National Parks along the Grand Canyon. Many details were included in the report about the trips into the canyon and alleged harassment of female Parks employees. The sad part of reading the 2016 investigative report (which is available online here https://www.doioig.gov/sites/doioig.gov/files/Misconduct_GrandCanyonRiverDistrict_Public.pdf) is not that the investigation, which began in 2014, revealed misconduct. The sad part is that the report acknowledges that there had been complaints about inappropriate sexual conduct for over a decade and complaints had been submitted to supervisors, but nothing was done to correct the overall pervasive atmosphere which allowed the behavior to persist. The earliest behavior detailed in the complaint was an event in 2005, a decade before the complaint investigation was concluded and additional action taken. The investigation concluded that there was a long term pattern of sexual harassment and hostile work environment created, and very little done to try to remedy the situation. It took 13 women writing a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Interior in Washington to launch this comprehensive investigation and begin implementation of corrective measures that would eliminate this pervasive culture of “what happens on the river, stays on the river.” After the investigation was completed, investigators had found not only the original 13 complainants who had witnessed inappropriate behavior, but an additional 22 witnesses were interviewed who also witnessed such behavior.
INSIGHTS FOR EMPLOYERS
The lesson for employers and their attorneys and HR professionals is that a complaint which may seem simple in its smaller context, and which you may think is fully resolved, could be part of a larger pattern of “culture” within an organization or subset of an organization. In those circumstances, it is not enough to reprimand an employee for one individual act, it takes a culture change. Here are some lessons:
Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or any other employment issues facing your company.