Add Sexual Harrasment to List of Things the EPA Can’t Seem to Fix: #NowWhat

Sexual assault in the office needs to stop.

ColumnThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is somewhat closer to solving its not-so-little problem–and we’re not talking about global warming. How about sexual harassment? Yep.

Sadly, this news isn’t surprising. The EPA’s sexual harassment issue became public a little more than a year ago during a congressional hearing.

Now, an EPA office—specifically the Region 5 office in Chicago, and more specifically, the office also involved with the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan—will face “an audit of how this office handles sexual-harassment complaints,” Mother Jones reports.

The news was revealed in a letter sent to the EPA’s Region 5 office in August 2016.

The problems

This letter is the result of the damning—and brave—whistleblowers who made an EPA intern’s harrowing experience public.

According to two of the whistleblowers, in 2011 “an intern approached Ronald Harris, the Region 5 Equal Employment Opportunity officer at the time, who helped her file an informal complaint alleging that she had been harassed by Paul Bertram, an environmental scientist then employed at the agency,” Mother Jones reports.

“It bothered her,” Harris said during his testimony to the committee.

“She was strong…She kept saying to me, ‘I just want it to stop. How do I get it to stop?'”

The intern also was subjected to touching, groping and kissing—all initiated by Bertram, said Carolyn Bohlen, Harris’ supervisor at the time.

Both Harris and Bohlen faced retaliation via their supervisors—bullying and intimidation that led to their resignations– because the whistleblowers reported the intern and other women’s sexual harassment allegations.

The results

The jury is still out on this case, but other sexual harassment allegations at the EPA are also gaining attention.

“Three months prior to the July 2015 hearing, the committee heard testimony from EPA officials, including EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins,” which alleged “that a high-level employee in the EPA Office of Homeland Security in Washington, DC, had sexually harassed multiple women,” Mother Jones reports.

“When senior officials in the agency were made aware of the man’s alleged conduct, they ‘did not take any actions’ against him, according to Patrick Sullivan, an official with the inspector general’s office who testified at the April 2015 hearing. The inspector general’s investigation found that the man, Peter Jutro, had ‘engaged in unwelcomed conduct’ with more than a dozen women over the course of 10 years, ‘including touching, hugging, kissing, photographing, and making double entendre comments with sexual connotations,’ according to Sullivan’s testimony before the committee.”

This is one of those things we hate knowing, but are relieved to know is public information.

But let’s not forget: Sexual harassment is rampant in the science industry. So, just because the EPA was correctly called out on its bullshit doesn’t mean that anything will change.

Related on EcoSalon
New Bill to Protect Children from Untested Chemicals
The Audacity of Doing Your Job: Lindsey Graham Steps Up For the EPA
Behind the Label: The Body Shop’s ‘Against Animal Testing’ Campaign

Image of upset woman via Shutterstock

Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.