Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga, who has shouldered responsibility for not acting more aggressively in response to long-running allegations of sexual harassment in the park, has announced his retirement rather than accept a move to the National Park Service's Washington headquarters.
In an email sent Tuesday morning to park staff, the superintendent said he met with Park Service Director Jon Jarvis in Washington last week to discuss the scandal and that "the Director told me he has decided a change in leadership is needed in order for the Park to move forward. He offered me a position in Washington, D.C., but I have decided instead to retire effective June 1, 2016."
There were also reports that Superintendent Uberuaga's deputy, Diane Chalfant, was being transferred out of the park, but that could not immediately be confirmed.
Back in January a report released by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General said that for roughly 15 years life deep in the Inner Gorge of the Grand Canyon at times reflected rowdy, sexually charged scenes from a frat party for some National Park Service employees, with male employees pawing and propositioning female workers, some of who at times exhibited their own risqué behavior.
The investigation generated a tawdry list of inappropriate behavior, from male employees taking photographs up under a female co-worker's dress and groping female workers to women dancing provocatively and bringing a drinking straw "shaped like a penis and testicles" to river parties. The incidents, a September 2014 letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell charged, "demonstrated evidence of 'discrimination, retaliation, and a sexually hostile work environment.'”
One Human Resources staffer from the national park told investigators that there was a "'laissez faire' attitude of 'what happens on the river, stays on the river.'” A female worker who complained about the behavior of some of her male colleagues said "that women on river trips were forced to 'walk the line' between 'not being hated and not being desired.' She said that she resigned from NPS when the stress of working with the River District employees became too much."
The OIG's report concluded that an internal investigation by Grand Canyon National Park staff was "insufficient and incomplete." It also noted that Park Service managers, from Superintendent Uberuaga to Intermountain Regional Director Sue Masica, had been aware of the allegations prior to 2014 and yet relatively little was done to change the river culture.
According to the 13-page OIG report, Superintendent Uberuaga, when provided with the Equal Employment Opportunity report from a 2013 investigation, "did not provide the report to HR or GRCA managers, and did not request HR personnel’s opinions about potential disciplinary action against the employees named in the report. No one was disciplined for failing to properly respond to the allegations, he said, because the EEO report indicated that these failures were 'not actionable.'”
But that decision by the superintendent, and other "midlevel managers" who did not contact their managers or Human Resources staff about the sexual harassment allegations, possibly was in violation of DOI and National Park Service regulations. Those regulations require that the EEO report be "distributed to key GRCA managers and NPS human resource (HR) officials," the OIG report stated. "No disciplinary or administrative action was taken against employees who were identified in the report as having violated DOI and NPS regulations."
This past March the Grand Canyon superintendent disbanded the River District Office where the complaints arose from, "to create an opportunity for a fresh start and a total review of our mission and responsibilities on the river."
In a related move, Director Jarvis last week told the Park Service staff that, "We invited leadership from the Department of Defense to discuss the steps they are taking to confront sexual harassment within their organization. One message we heard loud and clear was that there are no simple answers to ending sexual harassment in our workplaces. It will take a combination of efforts to get this right.
"The (National Leadership Council) made a commitment to identifying and fixing the conditions that allow harassment to take place, building work environments in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity, and holding those individuals who engage in sexual harassment accountable for their behavior," the director went on in an email sent to all NPS employees. "The NLC acknowledged that it will take some time to develop a thoughtful, comprehensive program to end sexual harassment in the National Park Service, but that as leaders, we are committed to investing the time and resources to address this issue in a manner respectful of those who have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace."
Part of that work, Director Jarvis said, will involve "an anonymous survey system-wide to understand the prevalence of sexual harassment, and that information will be critical as we develop system-wide responses."
"The NLC also committed to creating safe places for victims of sexual harassment or assault to report these incidents and seek support, without fear of retaliation in any form. This will require immediate action to protect those who currently feel unsafe in the work place," he wrote. "The National Park Service is a community of dedicated, passionate professionals who all deserve a workplace that is respectful and safe. As we develop an action plan to end sexual harassment in the workplace, we will keep employees informed and include you all in dialogue around this important issue."