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Firefighters file sexual harassment complaint against Forest Service

The U.S. Agriculture Department has been held to account numerous times in recent years for discrimination based on race and gender. The department made payouts to female and Hispanic farmers to compensate for discrimination; Native American farmers brought a class-action suit, which the department settled; and black farmers who complained of discrimination won a $1.15 billion settlement.

Now seven former and current female firefighters have filed a sexual harassment claim against the Forest Service, which is overseen by the Agriculture Department. The complaint, which could lead to a class-action lawsuit, was brought on behalf of women who have worked in national forests in California.

One of the women said that in 2012 her supervisor, who still works for the Forest Service, choked her and tried to sexually assault her. The woman also said that, in one instance, fliers left in the fire station referred to her in extremely derogatory sexual language.

After she reported the harassment in 2012, she was fired because she allegedly failed to disclose her criminal record when she applied for the job. She says the Forest Service already knew about the record, however, and that it was "dredged up" after she complained of harassment and abuse.

Another woman, who still works as a firefighter for the Forest Service, said that she was threatened and verbally abused by a man who worked under her. She alerted her supervisors of the incident, but she said no action was taken, and as a result of her complaint, she was denied promotions.

Sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace are unacceptable in every instance. If you have suffered this kind of mistreatment, then please know that you have legal recourse. An employment law attorney can investigate and assess your case, and take the necessary legal steps to hold the responsible parties accountable.

Source: The New York Times, "Women Allege Harassment and Abuse on Forest Service Firefighting Crews," Ron Nixon, Sept. 19, 2014

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