This summer, charges of sexual harassment brought down Roger Ailes the head of Fox News in a matter of weeks and created a media frenzy about discrimination in the workplace. It's not just an issue for private companies, but also the feds. As we first reported last year on Full Measure, the US Department of Agriculture and its Forest service have been under scrutiny for decades. An update on our story, now, after a recent Congressional hearing.
Last year on Full Measure, Alicia Dabney told us her harrowing tale of alleged sexual harassment as a firefighter with the Forest Service under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Dabney: One of my captains, my first crew, was forcing me to tell him when I started my menstrual periods.
Sharyl: So how did you report this?
Dabney: Every month, when I would start my menstrual cycle, I would go in there, and I would cover my face with my hands and just say, you know, I started my period, and be humiliated.
Sharyl: Why do you think he was doing that?
Dabney: I don't know his motives other than I just think he's sick to be honest.
The Forest Service and Department of Agriculture have sordid histories of civil rights violations and discrimination dating back decades. At a recent hearing, an advocate for minority employees at the Department of Agriculture, Lesa Donnelly, talked about Dabney's case.
Lesa Donnelly: I refer back to Alicia Dabney, when she reported these things, the agency trumped her up on false charges and terminated her and they did it publicly so that other women employees could see the chilling effect it would have for a woman to come forward.
Another Forest Service employee, Denice Rice, gave her own disturbing account about what a supervisor allegedly did.
Denice Rice: I was in his office and we were having an argument and he taken a letter opener and he poked my breasts, both breasts, with a smile on his face in his arrogant way, like he could get away with it. I just stood there in shock.
Congressman Trey Gowdy asked senior Forest Service official Lenise Lago about that.
Trey Gowdy: What did you'all do?
Lenise Lago: We fired him.
Trey Gowdy: No you didn't fire him, he retired, we've just established that.
Lenise Lago: He retired in lieu of being removed from his job.
Jody Hice: You are allowing people to crimes and not removing them from office, allowing them to retire and get full benefits and you can't even describe for this committee what possible behavior somebody would have to commit in order for them to be removed from office. I find that inexcusable.
Jackie Speier: There is something rotten in the US Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service.
At his confirmation hearing in 2009, Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack promised to change the culture. But Donnelley testified little has changed.
Lesa Donnelly: In the last eight years there's been virtually no response to our requests. I wish I could say there has been improvement. I can't. Things have gotten worse in terms of the blatant harassment of women and minorities, people with disabilities.
Forest Service and USDA leaders insist they're making progress. They point to a decrease in the number of harassment complaints and say internal investigations are faster now.
Alicia Dabney who we featured in our report has long since left the Forest Service. The government paid her a settlement, but admitted no fault.