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Ex-park ranger sues Missouri DNR for gender discrimination

A former park ranger sergeant is suing the Missouri Department of Natural Resources on the basis of gender discrimination, claiming in a recently filed federal lawsuit she was fired in an act of retaliation.

Angela Carson spent 19 years at the Department of Natural Resources and was based in Cole County, according to the lawsuit, before she said she was terminated in 2022 for alleged sexual harassment of a male coworker.

Carson has denied any wrongdoing, claiming that her firing stemmed from coming into contact with a male coworker’s genitals as part of the Department of Natural Resources self-defense training.

“Discussion occurred in trainings that, for a female, going to the groin area is something she may need to do in a dangerous situation,” according to the lawsuit, which noted that Carson often felt judged for being a lesbian and holding beliefs that differed from many in her male-dominated workplace.

The man who filed the complaint claimed the training incident was unwanted sexual contact, which Carson’s attorneys argue was unreasonable, biased and pretextual.

According to Carson, the sexual harassment complaint against her wasn’t reported to human resources until months later, after Carson had filed a complaint against a male coworker for allegedly “excessively speeding without justification in his patrol vehicle, using his patrol vehicle for personal matters, conducting personal business and activities while on the clock, and, most alarmingly, falsified reports and documents.”

The investigation into Carson’s complaint had caused a hostile work environment, according to the lawsuit, causing her to seek anxiety medication and counseling.

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Carson, who had reportedly mentioned sexism in the workplace to HR, requested paid administrative leave due to the negative health impact the work hostility had caused amid the respective investigations. Weeks later, the lawsuit said Carson illegally terminated “on the basis of her gender, sexual orientation, and/or in retaliation for Plaintiff’s protected complaints.”

Carson’s lawsuit, which is against the DNR and three male coworkers, said that no other DNR employee had ever been reported for coming into contact with genitals during the training exercise.

A 2021 Warren County Record article about Carson said she was a St. Louis-area supervisor who patrolled 18 state parks. She was the only female with a leadership role in the Rangers, according to her lawsuit.

“Ms. Carson, after many years of dedicated service, was shockingly mistreated,” Carson’s lawyer, Jeff Hackney, told the News-Leader. “More to the point, the law was broken. We look forward to a jury establishing this as a matter of record and awarding appropriate damages.”

Attorneys for the Department of Natural Resources declined comment amid the pending litigation but noted that speaking on the lawsuit “will be a different matter when the case is over.”