One of them, Zoe, met me on a Thursday night at a crowded restaurant in downtown Billings, where we sat at the bar. She was reluctant to come, she said; nearly four years after her time at the monument, she found it difficult to forget her experience. Born and raised in Billings, Zoe, whose name has been changed for her protection, is a single mother of two kids. She left her well-paying job at the Park Service in 2013 because of a hostile work-environment. “I still have a sour taste in my mouth about the NPS,” she told me. “They didn’t take care of me.”
In 2013, Zoe took a job as a natural-resource specialist under one of the monument’s chief supervisors. Throughout the hiring process, she said, the chief texted her to ask her out for drinks, to parties, or to talk about her recent divorce. She repeatedly turned him down or made excuses to avoid meeting him.
The advances continued after she began work, making her feel uncomfortable. Zoe told the park superintendent, Denice Swanke, about it, but she suspects that the chief immediately found out. “After that discussion, the work environment has gotten substantially worse,” she wrote in an EEO complaint two months later. “He is very aggressive towards me.”
At the same time, Zoe’s coworker, Eric Clanton, reported his own problems with the chief, who was also his supervisor. In an interview at a coffee shop in downtown Billings, Clanton told me that the chief asked him to narrow down female intern applicants based on their Facebook pictures, something Clanton was not willing to do. Clanton also said that in 2013, when he was picking up a new intern at the airport, the chief texted him, asking if she was “hot like she was in her picture.” “He kept asking questions about her,” Clanton said.
After they reported the incidents to the park superintendent and called the human resources department and EEO counselors at the Denver regional office, Clanton and Zoe each filed hostile work environment EEO complaints. About two months later, a contracted investigator contacted them to discuss the issue but as far as they know, he never visited the park. Zoe offered to show him text messages, emails, notes and employee evaluations as evidence, but says he declined to take them. Discouraged, they both left the Park Service for other jobs by the end of that year. “I was disheartened talking to HR,” Clanton said. “I hung in as long as I could.”
Zoe told me she kept the emails, text messages, and negative evaluations until January this year, but erased them shortly before I made contact with her. Shaking her head, she said she had held out hope until then that someone from the Park Service would contact her about the case. But no one ever did.
A year later, in 2014, another Little Bighorn employee, Kristine Brunsman, then 25, reported to the Intermountain Region EEO counselor that the same chief supervisor was creating a hostile work environment for her and several female employees and interns. The EEO counselor told her she lacked enough evidence to file a harassment complaint and advised her to talk to her superintendent first. Brunsman told Swanke she was considering filing an EEO complaint. Brunsman remembers her saying, “Do you really want it to go this far? Because, you know, sometimes people say things and they don’t think about the consequences.”