March 7 (UPI) — Tony Tooke, the chief of the U.S. Forest Service, resigned Wednesday amid reports of sexual harassment allegations against him and criticism over how his agency responded to complaints.
Tooke’s resignation comes days after a PBS NewsHour report revealed several claims of sexual misconduct against Tooke and other officials within the agency and retaliation against those who reported the behavior.
In an email to Forest Service employees, Tooke denied any wrongdoing but admitted that the agency has “much to do” to improve policies, accountability, reporting systems and training.
“In some of these news reports, you may have seen references to my own behavior in the
past,” Tooke wrote.”This naturally raised questions about my record and prompted an investigation, which I requested and fully support, and with which I have cooperated. I have been forthright during the review, but I cannot combat every inaccuracy that is reported in the news media.”
He continued: “What I can control, however, are decisions I make today and the choice of a path for the future that is best for our employees, the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I must also think about what is best for my family. Therefore, I have decided that what is needed right now is for me to step down as Forest Service chief and make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency.”
The PBS NewsHour report documented allegations from 34 current and former female Forest Service employees regarding sexual harassment on the job and either inaction or retaliation when they filed complaints.
Although sexual harassment allegations have garnered increased media attention as a result of social media campaigns such as #MeToo, class action complaints and lawsuits have been filed since 1972, according to the report.
In 2016, a congressional hearing addressed sexual assault and harassment in several federal agencies, including the Forest Service.
Tooke, a longtime Forest Service employee, led the agency for about six months after being appointed to the post in September.