Smoke blinded the security guards inside a warehouse at a nuclear weapons facility in Nevada. Clangs and shouts filled the air.
Amid the din, a guard named Jennifer Glover was thrown to the ground, handcuffed and hit across the face with the butt of a gun. One man ran his hands up her legs, she said, then grabbed her buttocks and groin. Another flipped her over, reached into her top to grab her breasts and ripped out her nipple ring.
By the time the smoke cleared, they had disappeared.
Ms. Glover could not identify her attackers. But she said she knew they were her colleagues, fellow guards taking part in a training exercise at the Energy Department’s highly classified Nevada National Security Site, where researchers and scientists conduct top-secret nuclear experiments and develop responses to chemical, biological and nuclear emergencies.
The encounter in November 2017 followed months of sexual harassment that she said began soon after she was hired. Her troubles worsened after she reported the attack: Men continued to harass and intimidate her, she said, and they accused her of informing on them. She was reprimanded for calling out sick, which she said she did to avoid her attackers, and was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations.
“Work went from being so exciting to being a nightmare,” said Ms. Glover, who described her experience in an interview with The New York Times, as did three other current or former security guards, all of whom she had confided in as the events unfolded.
Her accusations highlighted an entrenched culture of discrimination and retaliation on her team, known as the Proforce, that employees say flourished under two government contractors, Centerra and SOC, according to the interviews; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints she filed against the contractors; and a review of internal documents, including emails between Ms. Glover and human resources managers.
“A significant portion of the Proforce do not believe they can raise a safety issue without fear of reprisal,” officials wrote in a 2015 health and safety report by the Energy Department.
The attack on Ms. Glover underscores the difficulty of changing a hypermasculine culture, even as accounts of workplace sexual harassment and assault have drawn widespread condemnation and pledges to do better in the #MeToo era.
Ms. Glover was never told whether management identified or disciplined her attackers. After the encounter, two guards were suspended for days for “knowingly spreading false and malicious stories or rumors about other employees,” according to letters between Centerra and their union representative obtained by The Times. Their role in Ms. Glover’s attack, if any, was unclear.
Ultimately, after The Times began asking about the attack, Ms. Glover was fired for scheduling infractions and taking a photo of her schedule, which SOC called “company documents.” Her use of profanity also placed “the safety of the site in jeopardy,” according to her termination letter from SOC, which began managing the security force last spring.
Centerra, the nuclear site’s security contractor at the time of the assault, declined to comment beyond saying that it creates “work environments free from all forms of harassment and retaliation.” A spokeswoman for SOC, Holly Holt, said this article contained “significant inaccuracies in the facts and premise” but declined to be more specific.
“We expect our contractors to address any allegations of inappropriate behavior and hold employees accountable for any misconduct that occurs following a full and timely investigation,” said Lindsey Geisler, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department.
When a recruiter for Centerra reached out to Ms. Glover in 2016 about a job, it “sounded too good to be true,” she said.
She had been a gun range safety officer and owned her “own armory.” She was an amateur bodybuilder, a pursuit that prepared her for the job’s physical demands. Centerra offered $130,000 a year, a sizable salary that she could support her two children on as a single mother.
“This job was everything I’d ever wanted,” she said. She eagerly applied and was hired.
The Proforce members have little immediate supervision. Small groups of armed guards patrol the site, a tract the size of Rhode Island, on jeep rides, in watchtowers and from secure rooms. Shifts can last 12 hours or more.
Of the 150 or so guards, only about a dozen are women, and little has been done to curb a longstanding culture of gender discrimination, current and former guards said. Managers were dismissive at an anti-harassment training session last year when employees described instances of sexism, according to an employee who later complained about the session to a supervisor.
“Women who complain are retaliated against,” said Gus Redding, a security officer who himself filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case alleging that SOC retaliated after he spoke in defense of Ms. Glover. The two are now dating.
During her training, Ms. Glover said, she learned that senior guards had passed around a picture from Facebook of her in a bathing suit. A woman on the force warned her that the men “were like dogs.”
During her first work assignment, guarding the site’s gates, men catcalled her from cars, she said. A passenger grabbed her leg as she walked the aisle of a site bus. A colleague exposed himself during a car pool. Rumors flew that she was sleeping with co-workers if she simply ran into them at the gym or the supermarket.
Ms. Glover said Centerra, the company that ran the site when she was hired, did not respond after she reported the bus and car-pool encounters. She abandoned the car pool, drove herself 90 minutes each way to work, joined a different gym and shopped farther from home. She memorialized the episodes in complaints to the E.E.O.C.
One of the heads of the Proforce propositioned Ms. Glover in text messages, according to a declaration in her complaint submitted by Colin Care, a training manager. Ms. Glover said she made an excuse about being busy with her daughters, worried that her boss would retaliate.
She laughed off some of the harassment and insults, rejected propositions and complained to colleagues. But whether good-humored, polite or angry, Ms. Glover’s pushback made her a bigger target.
“Jenny is very vocal,” said Nathan Buck, a former colleague. “She let people know where she stood, and was singled out and got harsher treatment.”
An Attack Amid Chaos
Still, the year and a half of harassment did not prepare Ms. Glover to be attacked.
During a day of simulated attacks, Ms. Glover was assigned to rob the training area. Eager to complete the mission, her adrenaline ran high. “I’m thinking, this is awesome I get to do this,” she recalled.
While she pretended to steal secret materials, her helmet’s monitor notified her she was hit, she said. She fell to the ground. Deafening bangs and shouts and a fog machine limiting visibility mimicked the chaos of an attack.
She heard boots scuffling and prepared to be searched. But instead, she said, a man took her rifle and hit her in the mouth. Still, she assumed it was simply a rough search.
She was handcuffed. Then she felt another man run his hands over her legs and squeeze her buttocks and groin.
“We’d been trained to search over and over, using the backs of our hands,” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘You don’t grab a girl with both hands.’”
The first guard flipped her onto her back. “He put his hand inside my shirt and grabbed my breasts and squeezed them,” she said. He pulled out her nipple piercing. She caught a glimpse of her attacker’s arm, covered in a tattoo.
“As this is happening, so fast, so much going on, I can hear the lieutenant yelling,” she said. The exercise was over. The men ran.
Mr. Buck said he heard Ms. Glover shout in pain. He assumed it was from being handcuffed, but then he saw her emerge from the exercise. “She was in shock,” he said. “Her face looked frustrated and angry.”
Ms. Glover was reeling, telling herself that she could not have been attacked. “After all of this,” she said. “The work I put into this job. The time I spent talking to these guys. No way.”
But a supervisor pulled her aside and said he had told several men not to search her that way. Ms. Glover tried to brush it off but he stopped her, saying he had witnessed the attack.
His response made the experience sink in, Ms. Glover said: “What I was going through was not in my mind.”
Later that day, two men asked Ms. Glover what had happened, then smirked and walked away. “I was a joke to them,” she said.
Concerns About the Investigation
When Ms. Glover, who had also told Mr. Buck and Mr. Care about the attack, reported the encounter and previous months of harassment to her employer, one manager told her that this happens to women doing male-dominated work. She stormed out of his office.
Centerra began investigating, but Ms. Glover’s worries grew as the inquiry unfolded. Her labor union represented both her and the men she had accused of sexually harassing her for months.
Investigators asked her whom she had dined with and dated, and about her bodybuilding photos on Facebook, she said in her E.E.O.C. complaint. One said he was friends with a man she had accused of taunting her.
“I told them that I was being harassed, and they asked me about who I ate a burger with,” she said.
After the investigation, Centerra would not share its findings or tell Ms. Glover whether it had identified her attackers. The company found only that the two men had spread false and malicious rumors and suspended them for a few days.
Accusations of Retaliation
By the time SOC replaced Centerra last March, Ms. Glover said she was regularly calling out sick and swapping shifts to avoid sexual harassment, as well as taunts and threats. She said that guards bullied her by boxing her jeep in with their van and laughing as she sat trapped.
SOC denied Ms. Glover’s request for a permanent schedule change. Soon after The Times began inquiring over the summer about gender discrimination, Ms. Glover received her first negative write-up for waiting too long to call in sick. Over the following months, she was given three scheduling-related reprimands. All of the interactions were documented in emails from human resources workers reviewed by The Times.
SOC also took away Ms. Glover’s certification to work around nuclear materials or in secure areas, pending a psychiatric exam, according to an email reviewed by The Times. When she passed the examination, SOC asked for a second one, which she passed as well, according to results shared by her lawyer, Jay Ellwanger.
“This case certainly began based on allegations of shocking sexual harassment and sexual assault,” he said. “However, it has morphed into an equally severe case of retaliation by SOC.”
Ms. Holt, the spokeswoman, said in an email that SOC was working to “transform a culture that existed under the prior contractor” and that it tolerated no harassment or retaliation.
Eventually, SOC’s human resources department told Ms. Glover that her allegations did not amount to unlawful harassment or a violation of company policies, according to a letter reviewed by The Times. SOC then fired her for scheduling infractions and for “hostility and aggression,” according to her termination notice.
A manager said at a recent all-hands meeting that the Glover headache was over, according to an attendee who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation. “The company wanted Jenny to disappear,” Mr. Buck said.
Now, Ms. Glover’s primary job prospects are customer service positions that pay half of what she made.
“Other than being a mom, this job was my passion,” she said. “It has been ripped from my hands.”
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