MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) - A U.S. Fish and Wildlife expedition to study lake trout turned to horror for a wildlife biologist who claims in court that her supervisor sexually assaulted her in the wilds of Glacier National Park, and was allowed to retire with no disciplinary action.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in June reprimanded the 70,000 employees she supervises in a letter, saying in part: "I am particularly troubled by reports of sexual harassment and mistreatment of people in the workplace. As a Department, we have no tolerance for this type of conduct, which is poisonous to the workplace, demeaning and damaging to the affected individuals, and completely out of line with our values."
An inspector general's report in January found that several women working at Grand Canyon National Park had reported sexual harassment and assaults. A House committee held at least two hearings this summer on these and similar allegations.
The Department of the Interior supervises the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
In her Oct. 18 lawsuit in Federal Court, Karen Jane Nelson, a toxicologist, says she hiked 6 miles into Quartz Lake on Sept. 8, 2015, to help conduct a scuba dive to study lake trout with the long-term goal of controlling the non-native species' population.
Quartz Lake is in the north-central region of the 1,583-square mile Glacier National Park wilderness area in Montana's Rocky Mountains.
The historic Quartz Lake Patrol Cabin sits on the lake's western shore.
Two other Fish and Wildlife employees, including Regional Field Dive Officer Lawrence Lockard, accompanied her.
Nelson says that on the evening of the second day she awoke in the cabin to find Lockard, 67, sexually assaulting her, while a third diver slept outside the cabin, unaware of what was happening inside.
"(F)ollowing dinner and a period of relaxation, Karen was assigned a bed in a remote cabin," the complaint states. "Lockard occupied a separate bed adjacent to Karen's. A third individual requested to sleep outside due to his sleep apnea and tendency to disrupt others within quarters."
The complaint continues: "Lockard, knowing that Karen had taken sleep medication to assist her sleep, waited until Karen was asleep and began a sexual advance." She says Lockard "proceeded to sexually molest and assault" her for several minutes while she was asleep. When she awoke, she says, she "was unable to sleep the remainder of the night, lying there, in shock, terrified and feeling trapped until morning".
Nelson's attorney Terry MacDonald said in an interview that the attack stopped only after his client awoke from her deep sleep.
"It was horrible," MacDonald said. "She wakes up and is terrified because this guy is molesting her. He goes back to his bed, but she is scared the rest of night."
It wasn't until the return hike from the lake the next day that she learned how long she had been assaulted, MacDonald said.
"He told her on the way back down the trail that it had been several minutes. It made her nauseous. She didn't know the extent of it until he told her."
Police and Fish and Wildlife administrators were notified, but MacDonald said Fish and Wildlife "didn't even slap him on the wrist." When the agency let Lockard retire early, with no disciplinary action, it fueled talk among employees that the incident may have been consensual, the attorney said.
The agency's Office of Public Affairs did not return a phone call Wednesday afternoon.
The case was referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office, and Lockard was sentenced to six months in federal prison.
"Lockard knew the victim had been drinking, that she had taken sleep medication, and that she was wearing ear plugs when he climbed into her bed in the cabin they were sharing, touched her inappropriately and attempted to remove her clothing," the U.S. Attorney's Office told The Missoulian newspaper in May.
MacDonald said his client is receiving counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder.
She seeks punitive damages for negligence, hostile work environment, retaliation, vicarious liability, indifference and malice.
MacDonald is with Joyce & MacDonald, in Butte.
The defendants are the secretary of the interior and Lockard.
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