The Obama administration may have reached new lows in covering up sex abuse within the U.S. Forest Service. Lesa Donnelly, vice president of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, will file a lawsuit against the administration this month in front of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The pending suit claims that at least 25 women complained of sexual abuse and harassment. The Obama administration had repeatedly been notified that the California region of the Forest Service regularly covered up sexual assaults, but done anything to address the issue.
Donnelly has also alleged that the women were verbally demeaned by their male superiors within the Forest Service and regularly passed over for promotions. This isn’t the first time that the California region of the Forest Service has faced legal action, though. A 2011 lawsuit filed by Elaine Vercuysse alleged that 12 female employees in the region faced physical and sexual assault, but the case was thrown out on a technicality. Donnelly also settled with two lawsuits against the Forest Service that she filed in the mid-1990s, when she was still employed by them, alleging that she was harassed by four male employees.
One of the women in the lawsuit, Denise Rice, claims that supervisor Mike Beckett touched her inappropriately, “sexted” her on a government cell phone and regularly made unwanted advances for two years. After filing a formal complaint to forest supervisor Ramiro Villalvazo in 2011, he allegedly buried evidence intentionally and conducted an improper investigation into the matter. Donnelly has since regularly tried reaching out to Valerie Jarrett, a top aide to President Obama, but has received no response.
Neither the Obama administration or the U.S. Forest Service have not publicly commented on the pending lawsuit.