Female fire fighter fights different fight

07 August 2012

published by www.recorderonline.com



USA -- Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on a local woman’s battle against the forest service. Part II will look at other charges of sexual misconduct within the forest service.

Alicia Dabney, 30, became a fire fighter because she wanted to help others. She believed that fire fighters were heros, women and men who had dedicated their lives to ensuring the safety of others. Becoming a fire fighter for the Sequoia National Forest was a job that not only saw her following her childhood dreams, but inspired her three sons. They would point to Smoky the Bear, Dabney said, and say “my mom works for him.”

Or, in this case, worked. Dabney is no longer an employee of the Forest Service.

The agency said it is because she omitted information when filling out her “Declaration for Federal Employment Form OF-306” three years ago, when she originally applied for a position with the Forest Service. Dabney and the civil rights advocate who is helping her with her case, Lesa Donnelly, believe it is because she did not quietly turn over and allow her coworkers to get away with sexual harassment, assault and discrimination.

“I want to go to work tomorrow, but I want to do it an honest way,” Dabney said in an interview conducted a week before her termination. “I just want some kind of help to make them aware that they are caught. Enough is enough.”

According to Dabney, she has been fighting a battle nearly since the time she began to work for the Forest Service in 2010, to defend herself against sexual misconduct from her coworkers in the form of sexual harassment and physical assault. Dabney has filed numerous Equal Employment Opportunity complaints against the forest service, and has gone through five investigations into the allegations she has raised.

Dabney was aware the end was coming, however: She’d been placed on administrative leave by the Forest Supervisor for the Sequoia National Forest, Kevin Elliot, in May.

“They are already treating me like I am nothing. They won’t return phone calls. I call in for a supervisor and he is just telling people ‘don’t talk to her,’” she said, adding that those who would talk to her told her it was in her best interest to “speak to Kevin (Elliot).”

Neither Elliot or the local public relations officer, Mary Chislock, were able to comment. Instead, inquiries about the case, Chislock said, were to be directed to John C. Heil III, the press officer for the Pacific Southwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service. According to Heil, “it is the policy of the USDA and the Forest Service to provide a workplace environment that is free of harassment.”

Heil said the Forest service has taken Dabney’s “concerns” very seriously and have either investigated or are currently investigating the incidents. As far as the results of these investigations, Heil would not say, except that “appropriate action is taken to provide a work environment where all employees feel safe and valued.”

The two women had suspected that Dabney would eventually be terminated, and were already preparing for an appeal.

“They didn’t realize that she had kept all of her documentation,” Donnelly said of Dabney’s efforts to fill out her application.

When Dabney originally saw the accusation, it seemed laughably illogical to her.

“Three years later? I hate to insult their intelligence, but nowhere in the government do you get away with lying on your background for that long,” Dabney said.

Dabney’s termination, effective July 2, is a “trumped up charge,” Donnelly said, and was created just to “discredit her.”

Dabney began to work for the forest service as an apprentice fire fighter at McClellan Airforce Base Wildland Fighterfighter Apprenticeship academy and immediately found herself being harassed. She filed a complaint, which was investigated while she completed the first half of her training. That fall, after going into the advanced level class, she found that her efforts to speak out had only made her life worse. The harassment increased, she fought back, and eventually she was kicked out of the academy in retaliation, she said.

After that, she was assigned to the Springville Work Station, where she said the harassment followed her. Dabney continued to file Equal Employment Opportunity Complaints, and in doing so, opened the door for an escalating wave of verbal, emotional and physical abuse from her superior and coworkers, she charges.

Along with documents that prove she didn’t lie on her application, she has pictures, recorded audio, and a large amount of correspondence to back up her sexual harassment and assault complaints. Her accusations include that her coworkers wrote “Alicia Dabney is a whore” on a pile of papers which they tossed around the engine bay for her to see. She says she has received sexually explicit phone calls. One of the most humiliating things, however, she said, was having to urinate along the side of the road in front of her all-male crew after they refused to stop at an establish rest room.

Her supervisor has not only ignored her, he has denied her training and new equipment because she is “too fat,” and forced her to report the start of her period each month, she charges. Dabney also said that on an assignment in Texas, this supervisor also spat in her face, and then later tried to rape her. He isn’t the only one who allegedly has assaulted her. She said she was later assaulted by a male co-worker at her workstation.

Dabney has witnesses for many of the incidents, though most of them have not come forward, except for two men who saw the later assault. She was bending down and as she did so, one of the men she worked with straddled her neck and head, forced her to the ground, and “rode her like a horse” as Donnelly described it. Dabney still becomes emotional thinking about this humiliation, and the fact that even though action was taken she feels that she has not yet received justice.

“Every investigation they’ve done has been inconclusive,” Donnelly said. “The only accountability they have done is the man who assaulted her.”

Donnelly went on to say that the man was given the option to resign, which he did. Operating procedure for the complaint would have seen him put on paid administrative leave while the complaint was investigated, as he was the one who committed a violent action. Instead, Dabney was placed on paid administrative leave, and not allowed to work at all, which Donnelly also explained, was against standard operating procedure.

Those who have been placed on paid administrative leave for non-violent causes are supposed to continue working, so that they would continue to produce some sort of work for the salary they are continuing to draw off of taxpayer’s money. It is this that upsets Dabney the most. She requested a transfer from Elliot and was denied it, and staying at home for months, being unable to work, was driving her “crazy” she said.

“My biggest thing right now is that I’m stuck at home on taxpayers dollars when I’m capable of working,” Dabney said.

So, she continues to pursue her case not only for herself, but her children and others who may have been mistreated.

“They are totally trying to sweep it under the rug. I need help to get the story out there, and to let people know that there are major violations going on and that there is a cover-up,” Dabney said. “I know if we go public, more people who we can’t get in touch with will come out. I have seen females get ran out of there, and I am hoping that they come out and talk about their investigations, how they filed and the Forest Service fired them and got rid of them. I just want it to stop.”