WASHINGTON – The former superintendent of Yosemite National Park created a hostile workplace by belittling employees, using words such as “stupid,” “bozo” and “lazy,” and showing gender bias against women, a new report says.
Don Neubacher retired last fall after allegations that he created a toxic work environment were made public at a congressional hearing. Neubacher headed the California park for nearly seven years and spent 37 years with the National Park Service. Yosemite is one of the nation’s oldest and most popular national parks, drawing more than 4 million visitors a year.
In a report to be made public Monday, the Interior Department’s inspector general said more than half of 71 employees interviewed said they had witnessed Neubacher undermine a team member’s competence or performance, often ridiculing ideas as “dopey” or “stupid” or saying they would make park managers “look like bozos.”
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report in advance of its release on Monday.
At one point, Neubaucher said a subordinate “knows I am going to shoot her if we do this,” the report said.
The employee, a park manager, told the inspector general’s office that she knew Neubacher “was not literally threatening to shoot anyone,” but said `’she found such language violent and inappropriate for the workplace.”
Neubacher’s wife, Patty, also retired from a top park service job after the September hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. She was deputy regional director for the Pacific West Region, which covers 56 national parks in six states, including Yosemite.
Responding to the report, Don Neubacher denied harassing employees or creating a hostile work environment. He told investigators he was very busy, and that if he seemed dismissive, it was not intentional. “At Yosemite, you work at a fast pace, and I do think some people want to ponder things for a long time, which we don’t have time for,” he said.
Neubacher called himself a “micromanager” but said he had not intentionally insulted or belittled anyone. “I don’t yell. I don’t scream,” he said, adding that prior to the inspector general’s investigation, no one had ever complained to him about a hostile work environment.
Neubacher acknowledged calling some employee suggestions “a stupid idea,” but he denied calling anyone “stupid” or “an idiot.” He said he never referred to an employee as “lazy.”
The 24-page report on Yosemite said Neubacher directed most of his disparaging remarks at female employees, although in at least one case he appeared to give favorable treatment to a female subordinate, promoting her by two grade levels within three years, giving her a Fitbit for her birthday and spending $700 of his own money on a going-away gift when she took a job at another park.
The report on Yosemite comes amid allegations that sexual harassment, bullying and other misconduct are rampant at national parks across the country, including sites such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.
Yellowstone employees have complained about sexual exploitation of female workers and financial misconduct, while the superintendent at Grand Canyon retired after reports that male employees preyed on female colleagues, demanded sex and retaliated against women who refused. The chief of the Canaveral National Seashore in Florida is on paid leave amid similar allegations.
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