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Sexist, racist messages on employee Facebook page part of hostile work environment at SHD

Chris Graham

shd facebook1A Facebook page created to update Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport employees on work-related matters is your latest example of why we can’t have nice things.

The page, like so much else that we see with social media, was hijacked and used for several years by a group of SHD employees to post racist, sexist and otherwise just gross messages.

A public-safety employee at the airport who reported the activity to airport administrators said the response was to simply shut the page down.

No harm, no foul, right?

“They just wanted to sweep it under the rug,” said Travis Harlow, a former firefighter in Waynesboro, who joined the staff at SHD in 2018.

Harlow has tried to take his concerns about the work environment at the airport, which extend, for him, beyond that vile, now-deleted, Facebook page, to the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport Commission, the public body that oversees operations at the regional airport, which opened in 1958.

He said he was advised by supervisors against trying to bring the issues to the commission, which includes representatives from Augusta County, Rockingham County and the cities of Harrisonburg, Staunton and Waynesboro.

In an email to us on Monday, Harlow said he has decided to formally request to be given time on the commission’s meeting agenda to see if the public body will hear his story.

“I have not had a response yet,” Harlow told us.

The messages on the now-defunct Facebook page that he brought to the attention of superiors last summer go well over the line for what you’d expect to see out of something intended to keep employees up to date on job-related matters.

From screenshots provided to us by Harlow, there’s a meme posted in 2017 by Chris Botkin, the business manager of fixed base operations at SHD, purporting to depict “the first Thanksgiving,” the image showing a White woman in native dress fellating a older White man wearing a cowboy hat.

A second meme posted by Botkin in 2018 is a series of images of a Black teen under a caption reading “Gonna prank dad when he comes home” – the “joke” being the teen putting shaving cream in his hand, and waiting for one, two and ultimately 817 days.

Get it? Black teens are dumb, and also, Black fathers are not around for their kids.

Hilarious.

shd facebook2The crude came in the form of a “Happy Birthday” message posted by Botkin for Harlow in 2020 that read: “Today is the anniversary of you touching your Mom’s vagina … face first.”

The Facebook group is the tip of the spear in terms of the interesting work environment, to hear Harlow tell his story.

Harlow documented to us a 2021 incident in which an intoxicated employee of one of the airport’s corporate clients made unwanted advances at him, including kissing and exposing herself, which he reported to superiors – and learned a year later had been swept under the rug.

“If this had happened to a female co-worker, I’m sure immediate action would have been taken,” Harlow said.

The response from Lisa Botkin, the executive director at SHD, to the matter is detailed in an Oct. 13, 2022, email to Harlow.

“The Airport’s obligation on the reported incident was to investigate the incident that occurred with our tenant and take reasonable steps to make sure it did not happen again. It was, and it has not,” Botkin said, putting the responsibility for further action on the incident on Harlow, advising him that if he wanted to take action, he should file charges against the woman.

“I have made known that in the future, I want to know about any incidents of inappropriate behavior on Airport property, and that is the SOP moving forward,” Botkin wrote in the 2022 email.

Botkin, in that email, asserted that the woman was no longer an employee of the corporate client, and that her last day on the job was the date of the incident that Harlow had reported in 2021, but Harlow said he continued to have “multiple interactions” with the woman at the airport over the next two years, and raised that issue with supervisors.

Harlow ended up filing a grievance last summer against Botkin over what he felt was the lack of substantive response to his concerns, in which he also raised issues with Botkin’s leadership with respect to the employee Facebook page.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Harlow found himself written up two months after filing the grievance for violating airport safety policy, which he feels is blowback for raising the issues about the work environment.

“I was written up for creating a hostile/intimidating work environment,” Harlow said.

We reached out to Botkin on Monday to offer her the opportunity to comment on Harlow’s allegations, but in an emailed response, she declined.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].