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Forest Service attempts to tackle discrimination and harassment

The U.S. Forest Service employs many people in California and nationwide. Roughly 40,000 people work at the federal agency, and it unfortunately has a long history of sexual harassment complaints and retaliation. A class-action lawsuit targeted the agency in the 1970s after female employees experienced systemic discrimination. As recently as December 2016, an oversight panel reported that sexual harassment and assault remained rampant at the agency. The new director of the agency reported to Congress about recent steps taken to address an allegedly toxic workplace culture defined by sexual harassment, misconduct and bullying.

The director said that the agency has developed a new anti-harassment policy. Outside contractors have been retained to handle investigations of sexual misconduct complaints. The independent investigators are meant to circumvent bias and favoritism displayed by internal managers and staff. The agency has also added a new office to provide support for victims.

During the Congressional hearing, a former Forest Service employee criticized the director's plan as window dressing that only gave the impression that the agency would address complaints of sexual harassment and assault in good faith. The former employee claims to have suffered harassment while working for the agency. She doubted that the agency would cease retaliating against people who filed complaints.

A person who fears to report sexual harassment at work because of the likelihood of retaliation may consult an attorney about whether unwanted sexual advances, lewd comments or discrimination after refusing to provide sexual favors represented illegal conduct. After organizing evidence, an attorney may be able to prepare a formal complaint and seek a settlement from an employer that might include financial damages. If litigation becomes necessary, an attorney may develop a strategy for presenting the case in court.

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