Dem Rep Comes After Zinke For DOI Sexual Harassment Obama Admin Ignored

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Tim Pearce Energy Reporter
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A top Democrat lawmaker published an op-ed in the The Hill Thursday, demanding Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke take action against sexual harassment in his department beyond “paying lip service.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona is the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee. He also shelled out nearly $50,000 in taxpayer funds to settle with a former staffer who threatened to sue the lawmaker for allegedly getting drunk and creating a hostile work environment.

Grijalva criticized DOI administrator Zinke for his response to a December report that found 35 percent of DOI employees had experienced sexual harassment in the past year. The lawmaker accused the secretary of voicing an empty commitment to fighting harassment.

“Policies cannot stop at an often counterproductive ‘zero tolerance’ statement of purpose, as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s comments on the issue have frequently done,” the op-ed states. “They need to lay out a clear mechanism for reporting incidents of harassment, create a meaningful and predictable process for investigating claims, protect the confidentiality of complainants and explicitly prohibit retaliation against those who come forward.”

“We all know — now better than ever, thanks to the #MeToo movement and the courage of Americans finding their public voice on the issue — that ‘unreported’ doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, or that it will be quickly forgotten,” Grijalva writes. “It means top managers didn’t want to hear about it or wanted to sweep it under the rug.”

In 2015, Grijalva arranged for the federal government to cover the cost of  a $48,395 severance package for a staffer who threatened to sue him for creating a hostile work environment.

According to the Washington Times, which first reported the settlement, Grijalva stopped paying the former staffer after she threatened the suit. He was following procedure laid out by the House Employment Counsel, which advises and serves as the attorney for House offices, to force the staffer into a settlement.

Zinke has fired four senior DOI officials for sexual harassment. His “action plan” to fight sexual harassment in his department includes strengthening policies, hiring more Employee Relations and Labor Relations staff and increasing harassment training.

“Paying lip service to the value of a healthy work environment is not the same thing as addressing or preventing harassment,” Grijalva wrote, referring to Zinke’s commitment to “zero-tolerance.”

Rampant sexual harassment in the National Parks Service (NPS) went largely unaddressed during the administration of former-President Barack Obama. Former NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis was called the “worst Park Service Director within living memory.” Former-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell thought the NPS possessed a “culture” of sexual harassment while Jarvis run the agency and Jewell ran the DOI.

“But I am proud of the fact that we are going to deal with it and deal with it immediately,” Jewell said in July 2016, referring to sexual harassment in the NPS.

Grijalva’s office did not respond to a request for comment by the time of this article’s publishing.

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