Looking to develop a more centralized process to handle sexual harassment complaints by municipal employees, the Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to explore the creation of a complaint hotline and website while also reexamining current policies.
"The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace is not something new. (For) too long, women have had to deal with issues of an unpleasant comment, a look, a gesture or something that has made us feel uncomfortable around someone who hasn't stopped their behavior," said Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who introduced the motion along with Councilman Paul Krekorian.
After hearing testimony from several members of the Personnel Department that harassment complaints can sometimes be handled within a department or by managers, and that the city does not fully track all complaints, Krekorian said he hoped the motion would lead to a more centralized process.
"Number one, even issues that are resolved at the managerial level, we need that data, so we need those to be reported to Personnel so that we have exactly the kind of pool of information that we need to be able to identify where problems are coming from and to hold people accountable," Krekorian said. "Number two, wherever it is possible, we need to integrate Personnel into that process as early as possible."
The motion, which was approved on a 13-0 vote, directs the Personnel Department to report on the feasibility of creating a sexual harassment and assault complaint hotline and website; reexamine the city's sexual harassment policies to ensure the policies are victim-friendly and report back with any recommendations on changes to the policy; and to report with the number of sexual harassment complaints reported in the last five years, broken down by department.
Krekorian noted that the city had settled fewer than 10 sexual harassment lawsuits over the last five years, for a total of about $3 million.
"Out of 50,000 employees over five years, that's not bad. But here's the concern. For every person who stands up and files a lawsuit, how many more people are out there who have been victimized but don't feel capable of doing that?" he said.
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The motion comes amid a flurry of reports nationwide of prominent celebrities, journalists and politicians being accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault, with the latest coming just before the City Council met as NBC announced the firing of longtime "Today Show" co-host Matt Lauer over "inappropriate sexual behavior."
Martinez noted how close to home the issue had recently hit her. Her longtime political ally, former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, resigned Monday amid multiple reports of alleged sexual harassment. Martinez, whose husband had worked for Bocanegra, last week called for him to step down immediately, after the lawmaker initially said he intended to serve out his term.
"These past couple of weeks have been incredibly difficult because I've had to call out friends on this very issue," she said.