FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The National Park Service has outlined a series of actions in response to a federal report that found employees at the Grand Canyon preyed on their female colleagues and retaliated against them for refusing sexual advances.
The agency’s Intermountain Region director, Sue Masica, said employees will be disciplined appropriately and she will push a message of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and hostile work environments.
"While dismayed at the work environment described in the report, I am committed to working to change the situation and keep similar situations from happening again," she wrote in a response to the report this week. "The employees of Grand Canyon National Park deserve nothing less than that."
Thirteen current and former Grand Canyon National Park employees filed a complaint in 2014 alleging a 15-year pattern of abuse in the Grand Canyon’s river district on rafting trips led by the agency. The letter prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General.
The report focused on allegations lodged against four NPS employees. It found that male park employees pressured female co-workers for sex, touched them inappropriately, made lewd comments and retaliated when rejected. One of those men remains employed at the Grand Canyon.
The report also found that disciplinary actions were inconsistent when it came to sexual harassment and that the Grand Canyon’s chain of command failed to properly investigate or report allegations of misconduct — a violation of Interior Department policy.
Masica said the Grand Canyon’s deputy superintendent and superintendent are responsible for complying with that policy and she would ensure disciplinary action is taken. She also vowed to have a third-party review a 2013 report by the Equal Employment Opportunity office that also looked into similar sexual harassment complaints to determine if anyone should be disciplined, to create an ombudsman position, to develop comprehensive training programs and to personally apologize to those who filed the 2014 complaint.
Masica’s response includes deadlines within 2016 for other changes, including separating the patrol functions of the river district from the support services for rafting trips. Grand Canyon National Park manages 280 miles of the Colorado River, providing emergency and medical services as well as guiding researchers, politicians and students on a dozen river trips per year.
Michelle Kearney, a former Grand Canyon river district ranger who signed on to the 2014 complaint, praised the proposed reforms as robust and healthy. She suggested further that the Park Service seek help from the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women for resources and training on sexual violence.
The Park Service also should have at least two systems to report misconduct, sexual harassment and violence that are centered on the victim and confidential, she said.
"The system failed. We tried every avenue, and it failed," she said. "It needs to be reviewed. Those people in those positions need to have special training."
Copyright 2016 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.