Examining Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture

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  • Harassment and discrimination at USDA has gotten worse under the Obama Administration. Witnesses testified sexual assault, harassment, discrimination, and resulting retaliation has increased at the Agency since 2008.
  • Whistleblowers shared personal heartbreaking accounts of sexual harassment, hostile work environments, and discrimination.
  • FS has shown a lack of accountability and a poor record of investigating allegations of sexual harassment with perpetrators often escaping discipline by retiring, moving, or seeking a promotion.
  • The Office of Special Counsel found that the USDA Office of Civil Rights (OASCR) is “seriously mismanaged, thereby compromising the civil rights of USDA employees.”
  • FS requested Congressional assistance to simplify the process of firing federal employees.


  • To address misconduct, sexual harassment, and disparate treatment of women within FS.
  • To examine the USDA’s management of its OASCR and handling of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints.


  • FS has faced criticism and media reports over egregious cases of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
  • Many women describe a work environment where there is a lack of accountability and a fear of retaliation for reporting such behavior.
  • USDA has been questioned over its management of OASCR and its handling of EEO complaints. Reports have found that OASCR was significantly late in processing EEO complaints, among other issues.
  • In March 2016, current FS employee Denise Rice courageously shared her heartbreaking experience of being sexually harassed at the Agency.

Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT): “We will use every power we possibly can from this pulpit to make sure that [whistleblowers] are treated with dignity and never have to go through that again in any way, shape or form.”

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Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC): “I just heard the most glowing account of all of the improvements that have been made over the past eight years, and you mean to tell me that someone can engage in the conduct that Ms. Rice just described and avoid all consequence whatsoever?”

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Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA): “You are allowing people to commit crimes and not removing them from office, allowing them to retire and get full benefit . . . I find that inexcusable”

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Witnesses and testimonies

Name Title Organization Panel Document
The Honorable Joe Leonard, Jr. Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights U.S. Department of Agriculture   Document
Ms. Lenise Lago Deputy Chief, Business Operations U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture   Document
Ms. Lesa Donnelly Vice President of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees/Federal Employee Advocate Former U.S. Forest Service Employee   Document
Ms. Denise Rice Fire Prevention Technician, Region 5 Eldorado National Forest U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture   Document

Related Documents

Name Document
Statement of Dr. Leda Kobziar, President, Association of Fire Ecologists Document
Statement of Melissa Moore, of the U.S. Forest Service Document
Letter from OSC to President Obama 5-18-15 Document

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