Lesbian Worker says She Feared
by Annette Cary
A worker at Army Corps dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers was harassed and discriminated against as a lesbian and feared for her safety, according to a federal lawsuit
Traci Van Hoven was a temporary mechanical utility worker in 2015 at Ice Harbor Dam when the harassment began, according to her U.S. District Court suit.
The dam is on the Snake River about 10 miles east of Pasco in the Corps' Walla Walla District.
The Army Corps does not comment on active court cases.
The lawsuit claims she was repeatedly denied training that was offered to men and promotions to permanent positions.
Her male co-workers called her a "little bitch" in front of managers and supervisors without consequence, the lawsuit said. Male co-workers would comment on her breasts and ask her for sexual details related to her same-sex spouse, said the suit.
And an office bulletin board was used to post sexist, racist and homophobic documents, it said.
She was assigned to less technical duties such as holding a ladder or lamp while her male co-workers did more challenging tasks, such as welding work that they called "a man's job," the lawsuit claims.
NO WOMAN'S LOCKER ROOM
There were not locker rooms or restrooms designated for women powerhouse employees, but several of each for men. Female employees used a single unisex bathroom, including to change clothes, and it was often occupied by a man, according to the lawsuit.
Her applications for three permanent positions were turned down with the explanation she lacked the needed knowledge or training. When training was denied, she was told it was because she was a temporary employee, the lawsuit said.
Other employees with comparable experience and abilities were given the permanent jobs, the lawsuit said.
On March 30, 2018, Van Hoven reported to a Corps equal employment opportunity official that she was being discriminated against because of her gender and sexual orientation and was being sexually harassed.
After an investigation was launched she was placed on administrative leave for four days and then told to return to work in a different department, the tech department.
A female employee accompanied her to different worksites for her protection and safety after she returned to work, according to the lawsuit.
LAWSUIT: DISCRIMINATION ESCALATES
But the discrimination and retaliation escalated after she reported it, according to the lawsuit.
Male employees accosted her in the elevator, one threw a glass bottle near her and another kicked a chair during a meeting, the lawsuit said.
The investigation into her claims was completed in May 2018, and found overwhelming evidence that male employees used inappropriate language related to transgender, sexual orientation and race and that managers accepted it and sometimes participated, according to the lawsuit.
It found that a single unisex bathroom that doubled as a changing room for female employees was not appropriate.
Male employees had made inappropriate comments about the appearance of an unnamed female employee during training and had called Van Hoven scrawny and weak, the investigation said.
Two weeks after the investigation was finished, Van Hoven asked to be transferred to a different Corps facility, saying she feared for her safety.
About three weeks later she was given a temporary job at McNary Dam on the Columbia River near Umatilla.
Management and Annette Cary there knew that she was being transferred because of her reporting of discrimination and retaliation, the lawsuit said.
DAMAGES FOR HUMILIATION
It alleges that a vacancy for a permanent utility worker position was not posted because Van Hoven would likely apply for a permanent position if it was advertised.
In August, Van Hoven was suffering acute anxiety based on working conditions, but was denied sick leave even though she presented Family Medical Leave Act medical certification of anxiety to substantiate her need to leave for medical appointments and take other occasional time off.
On Oct. 8, 2018, she resigned because of work place conditions that were intolerable, the lawsuit said. Her temporary job was coming to a close with no discussion with management on future employment.
The lawsuit claims discrimination related to sex, disability and the Family Medical Leave Act and employment retaliation.
It asks for back pay for lost earnings and benefits and damages for humiliation and embarrassment. It also asks that Van Hoven be given a permanent position with the Corps or be given economic compensation for lost future wages and benefits.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs