At Tuesday’s California Assembly hearing on sexual harassment prevention, chief administrator Debra Gravert stunned observers when she was asked how many victim complaints have come in during her three-and-a-half years on the job.
“We do not track complaints. We only track investigations,” she responded.
You could practically hear hundreds of jaws drop under the Capitol dome after her statement.
But it turns out there is no legal requirement for lawmakers to keep track of sexual-harassment reports or complaints — and the same goes for any California employer.
“Isn’t that problematic, that we don’t track the complaints?” Asm. Vince Fong (R-Kern County) asked Gravert after her statement.
“It’s a valid point,” she responded. “And I think this is something that the subcommittee should definitely explore if that’s something the Rules Committee should start doing.”
Gravert clarified her statement about half an hour later when pressed by another lawmaker.
“While we don’t track complaints, because some do not rise to the level of a violation of policy,” she said, “if a complaint is received – specifically relating to sexual harassment that is a violation of our policy – it is investigated.”
And Gravert added the next day in an email: “We do have a record of all complaints; we just don’t have a formal tracking system in place.“
The Senate Rules Committee, meanwhile, says it doesn’t distinguish between complaints and investigations, because it investigates every complaint. It says that policy is not new.
While it may be confusing — and politically questionable — for the Assembly not to track all complaints, it’s not illegal.
“In terms of keeping a log of the number of complaints they receive in a particular year, I am not aware of such a requirement,” said San Diego-based employment lawyer Michael Kalt, who advocates at the state Capitol on behalf of California Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.
Kalt said most large employers have internal procedures that would allow them to track the total number of sexual harassment complaints.
“Most HR members in our industry are already aware of their obligation to respond to harassment complaints and take that obligation seriously, so they probably have that information already,” he said.
But, he added, he was surprised to hear the Assembly — which has roughly 1,200 employees — hasn’t been keeping count.
“They pass a number of laws requiring employers to have effective remedial measures. And you would think that they would also want to know how many complaints they were receiving,” Kalt said.
Kalt thinks most businesses would be fine with a new state law mandating that all complaints be tracked — so long as it doesn’t require any public disclosure.