PRNSA hushes staffer, citing defamatory posts

08/03/2017

The Point Reyes National Seashore Association issued a cease and desist letter to the nonprofit’s bookstore manager earlier this month over what it calls defamatory statements made on Facebook. The manager, Devin Currens, has accused his employer of abuses, and has specifically called out the organization’s executive director, Samaria Jaffe. 

He filed a worker safety and a whistleblower complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, though the Light was unable to obtain the complaints and Mr. Currens declined to describe them for this story. 

Ms. Jaffe told the Light that there are “a lot of outstanding things to be discovered here, though as an organization we are not able to comment on the specifics of the situation due to privacy concerns for our employee.” She said PRNSA has “looked into the matter on several accounts” and found no wrongdoing on the part of the organization. 

But Facebook posts by Mr. Currens and an online fundraising page allude to abuses at work as well as a communication breakdown.  A GoFundMe page raising money for medical and mental health expenses cites “multiple instances of employer abuse,” though it does not elaborate on them. It states that after filing a complaint, Mr. Currens was immediately put on administrative leave and blocked from the park’s internet servers. Many emails sent internally at PRNSA to alert staff of the situation were also deleted from the server, according to the page. 

“It’s difficult for me to ask for help,” Mr. Currens posted on Facebook on July 20. “I wasn’t raised to ask for help. But I am asking for help. I am currently living in my car and on people’s couches. I’m not sure what my employment status at work is (my boss has cut off communication). I need to talk to someone, but I can’t afford to pay out of pocket for counseling. My employer won’t reimburse me for talk therapy and we don’t have coverage under our plan.” 

Yet Ms. Jaffee disputed this, saying PRNSA provides full mental and health services. She said Mr. Currens is still employed.

Mr. Currens posted the cease and desist letter, sent by the San Francisco-based law firm Jackson Lewis, on Facebook. The letter demands that he immediately “cease and desist in publishing any defamatory statements or comments regarding Ms. Jaffe or the organization” and “remove from all social media websites all defamatory and disparaging remarks regarding our client made by you.” 

The letter disputes the accuracy of Mr. Currens’s claims, which it says “are defamatory per se in that they depict our client as engaging in illegal activity that violates civil and potentially criminal law.” 

Mr. Currens covered up the examples of defamatory statements cited in the letter when he photographed it for the post, and deleted previous posts from Facebook. “I am only speaking about my experience on social media because I have been discouraged from speaking with anyone else. The behavior of this organization should be alarming to anyone who cares about freedom and safety,” he wrote. 

The GoFundMe page states that Mr. Currens needs mental health services “to get back on his feet so that he can move on from this incident and channel his passion, hard work and dedication into finding a job where he is valued and treated with respect.” It also notes that any money not used will be donated back to PRNSA to be used for employee mental health care.

The attorney from Jackson Lewis law firm who signed the letter did not return the Light’s calls or emails before press time, but the letter offers some insight into what may come next, stating that “PRSNA reserves the right to pursue appropriate legal action against you, including seeking injunctive relief.” 

It demands that Mr. Currens preserve all original, electronic and hard copies of all written communications sent to current and former employees and executives at PRNSA. It concludes, “All such documents may be evidence should it become necessary for PRNSA to pursue legal remedies against you. Destroying, discarding or losing such documents may itself give rise to legal liability to you.”

Numerous sympathetic responses appear on Mr. Currens’s Facebook page, including from previous PRNSA employees. 

One former employee wrote: “Not shocked, considering eight of us with over 18 years of combined sweat, passion and dedication left in 2015-16. No recourse, no board action and a complete dismal of our grievances.”

PRNSA is a cooperating association of the National Park Service and works in partnership with the seashore to improve park trails and open space, restore native habitats and acquire new parcels of land. It also runs year-round environmental education programs for both children and adults. 

For three years, Mr. Currens has helped manage the association’s three bookstores, which have natural and cultural histories, children’s books, maps, posters, field guides and a wide range of nature-inspired books and gifts.