City News Service

LA County Is Slow to Resolve Harassment Complaints

An agency charged with managing reports of sexual harassment by county employees is slow to discipline offenders and departments often impose less stringent penalties than recommended, according to an audit reviewed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

In December, the board hailed the policies of the County Equity Oversight Panel as robust and said the county held employees to a higher standard than required by law.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said Tuesday the CEOP is often highlighted as a model for other jurisdictions, calling the model "very good." However, when wrongdoing is uncovered, "it falls to the department to carry it out," she said. "There, we have not always succeeded."

County auditors found that, on average, offenders were disciplined 18 months after a complaint was first filed.

The disciplinary action recommended by the CEOP was taken in an estimated 34 percent of cases, based on a sample of 50 investigations. However, in 44 percent of the sampled cases, a reduced penalty was implemented or no action at all was taken.

In the remaining cases, managers were unable to take action because of a pending appeal or the need for further investigation or because the alleged offender was no longer working for the county.

The intake unit that works with the CEOP received roughly 28,340 complaints from the time it was established in July 2011 through December 2017, according to data provided to City News Service. Of those, 28 percent were initially found to allege a potential violation within the jurisdiction of the CEOP and were tagged for further investigation.

A CNS request for a breakdown of complaints by year and more detail on how many investigations resulted in disciplinary action or training has gone unanswered since February.

The audit report provided data only on its sample of 50 cases.

The county has channels -- including a hotline -- for employees to report complaints on their own or to any manager at all, whether or not they report to those managers. It also requires managers to report possible violations and prohibits retaliation.

Preliminary investigations typically include an independent attorney and a briefing on the findings by a panel of experts.

Supervisor Janice Hahn said the board was focused on improving the process and recommended that staffers look at ways to better track outcomes and expedite the overall process.

"If we can make it better, we certainly want to," she said.

Kuehl asked staffers to also explore whether there is a way to "motivate" departments to implement discipline as recommended.

A report is expected back in 45 days.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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