The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously this week to review the county’s sexual harassment and discrimination policies.
Supervisor Hilda Solis proposed the review, pointing to inadequate programs in place in Congress and the State Capitol and an ever-growing number of complaints.
“The county has, for years, had a strong program to address these issues,” Solis said, but added that intense focus on the issue of sexual harassment warranted taking another look.
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.
“All managers are required to report, they have an affirmative duty to report,” and employees may also make anonymous reports of harassment or discrimination, according to Rose Belda, assistant county counsel.
Investigations are managed by the County Equity Oversight Panel and county policy holds employees to a standard stricter than that required by law: inappropriate conduct by others. That can include even a one-off joke, Belda said.
“There is a system of checks and balances throughout,” Belda told the board, describing a process that includes a preliminary investigation that typically includes an independent attorney and then a briefing on the findings by a panel of experts.
The “robust process” includes a “prohibition under the policy for retaliation,” said Vickey Bane, executive director of the CEOP.
Supervisor Janice Hahn noted that society’s response to claims of harassment has shifted dramatically.
“The system was unkind to women,” Hahn said, but now “what you hear people saying is ‘we believe the women.’”’
Hahn said reporting is the key and told her colleagues it is critical that “whoever comes forward is presumed to be telling the truth.”
Supervisor Kathryn Barger agreed, but said it was important to maintain a balance. “I believe you are innocent until proven guilty. We need to have an objective process that vets this,” she said, including the ability to act swiftly if there’s a history of discrimination or harassment.
A report is expected back next week.