Women Grand Canyon park workers sexually harassed, U.S. probe finds

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 12, 2016 6:42 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) - Women employees at Grand Canyon National Park were sexually harassed for more than a decade by three male boat operators during work trips on the Colorado River, a federal investigation found on Tuesday.

The investigation was based on allegations by 13 former and current park employees and information from 22 others, revealing "a long-term pattern of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment" at the park in Arizona, the report said.

The incidents included inappropriate touching and threats and took place over 15 years since about 2000. Some were not investigated or reported by supervisors, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior inspector general's office.

"The behavior cited in the report is simply unacceptable," National Park Service spokesman James Doyle said in an email.

Neither the boatmen nor the complainants were named. All three of the men denied any wrongdoing, and two no longer work for the park. The U.S. Attorney for Arizona declined to prosecute.

During research and park maintenance trips that could last for weeks, female workers said the boatmen touched them inappropriately and lashed out if their advances were rejected.

The aggressors had "some sort of wager... to see who would get laid the most," according to a witness quoted in the report.

One employee said she suspected one of the boatmen may have "taken sexual advantage" of an intoxicated woman during a 2008 trip. When the witness questioned the man, who was lying next to the sleeping woman, she said he "stood up, buckled his pants and walked away," according to the report.

After a 2005 incident in which one of the boatmen took a photograph under a park employee's dress, he received a 30-day suspension and subsequently resigned, according to the report. A second boatman resigned in 2013 after being disciplined.

The third boatman told investigators he had consensual sex with women during river trips and was not disciplined for any of the incidents described in the report. He remains an employee of the park but is prohibited from participating in river trips.

The investigation stems from a letter sent to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in September 2014 from several National Park Service workers.

Officials have taken steps to change the way river trips are conducted at the Grand Canyon, including prohibiting alcohol and stripping boatmen of their power to remove other workers from the trips.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Sara Catania and Cynthia Osterman)