U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke resigned from his post, after it was revealed that the Agriculture Department was investigating sexual misconduct claims against him.
Tooke made a statement in an email to his employees where he praised the courage of the women who have come forward with details of their traumatic experiences. He also said the Forest Service resources are working to provide a better working environment.
“Many of you have seen the news reports which included the stories from women who told of their experiences with sexual harassment in the Forest Service. I admire their courage. Their stories are heartbreaking and reveal that we must do much more to achieve a safe, positive, and respectful work environment for all employees. Please know that Forest Service leadership is committed to investing in the changes and resources needed to improve and become much better,” Tooke wrote.
While announcing his retirement, he also gave his point of view in the ongoing investigation regarding his own behavior, claiming that he will not combat “inaccurate” media reports.
“In some of these news reports, you may have seen references to my own behavior in the past. This naturally raised questions about my record and prompted an investigation, which I requested and fully support, and with which I have cooperated. I have been forthright during the review, but I cannot combat every inaccuracy that is reported in the news media,” he said.
He stated that his decision to retire was for the best of his family and that he has fully cooperated with the investigation but " I must also think about what is best for my family. Therefore, I have decided that what is needed right now is for me to step down as Forest Service Chief and make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency.”
According to a PBS interview, more than 34 women working for the Forest Service in 13 states filed sexual harassment and discrimination complaints. Three of these women were raped. Most of these formal reports were retaliated against through investigative mishandling or delay.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a long history of sexual abuse allegations and gender and racial discrimination. According to reports, “In 2009, more than 20,000 discrimination claims were tied up in decades-old class-action lawsuits, which have since been resolved. In 2010, the USDA reached a $1.2 billion settlement with black farmers and another worth $760 million with Native American farmers over claims that the groups didn’t have equal access to loan programs.”
In addition to discrimination, there are also retaliation allegations. Reportedly, nearly 14,000 civil rights complaints were left unattended in the George W. Bush era.
With the #MeToo movement on the rise, Tooke’s resignation is the latest reckoning since the notorious Harvey Weinstein scandal. Since then, around 71 well-known men in public positions have been accused of sexual misconduct resulting firings and resignations especially in positions of power.
Recently, four female senators shared their harrowing harassment stories, despite of their being in prominent positions.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: U.S. Forest Service