State wildlife agency rocked by sexual harassment, rape allegations

A law firm hired by Fish and Wildlife to investigate claims of sexual harassment spawned after an alleged rape found that a group of workers in the agency’s upper echelon often held or tolerated sexually explicit conversations at work.

Editor’s note: This story was reported in collaboration with Austin Jenkins of public radio’s Northwest News Network.

An inappropriate sexual culture festered for more than a year within the upper ranks of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife until a rape allegation against a former division manager brought it to light.

A law firm hired by Fish and Wildlife to investigate claims of sexual harassment spawned after the alleged rape found that a group of workers in the agency’s upper echelon often held or tolerated sexually explicit conversations at work. Some engaged in other inappropriate behavior both on the clock and after hours.

The firm, MFR Law Group, also reported that the behavior, including at least one case of workplace sexual harassment, largely went unreported and unaddressed by the agency’s top leaders.

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The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network obtained the report in May through a public-records request. The report, issued in 2015, had not previously been made public.

The news outlets asked three experts on workplace culture to review the report.

Steve Hirschfeld, a San Francisco-based lawyer who investigates corporate harassment issues at Hirschfeld Kraemer, said the MFR Law Group investigation showed “a workplace that is highly sexualized with a lot of, presumably, unprofessional banter.”

More than a dozen people named in the report seemed aware of at least one instance of inappropriate behavior. Many were in management positions.

Information revealed by the MFR Law Group investigation forced reflection among top leaders at Fish and Wildlife, who say they were unaware of brewing problems. They took steps to respond to fallout of the rape charge and the agency’s problematic work environment.

But they also painted the issues as emanating from one small faction of an agency, which is composed of roughly 1,900 employees working in Olympia and six regional offices across the state.

“It looked to me like it was this small group of folks going beyond the norm,” said Joe Stohr, deputy director of Fish and Wildlife.

Stohr spoke for the department because Director Jim Unsworth…

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