California has launched a new system for tracking sexual harassment complaints filed by state employees — a project that has been in the works for nearly two years.
It will log investigations pursued by a department’s equal employment opportunity officer in response to harassment and discrimination complaints. The system, overseen by CalHR, will also track investigation outcomes.
Officials believe it will help identify departments struggling with sexual harassment complaints and potential repeat harassment offenders. CalHR plans to produce public reports on the data collected, but the identity of employees who file complaints will remain confidential.
The Sacramento Bee first reported the launch of the new system on January 1. However, it’s not the first time in history that the state tracked this data.
The state previously had a system to monitor sexual harassment and discrimination complaints in 2012, when officials eliminated the system amid budget cuts and an effort to consolidate human resources responsibilities in government. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, that left California officials without reliable data on the prevalence of sexual harassment allegations in state government.
Andrew Lamar, spokesperson for CalHR, declined an interview request with department director Eraina Ortega.
In an interview last year with CapRadio, Ortega discussed the impact of eliminating the system.
“When the issue was at the height of interest [in 2018], there wasn’t an ability to even answer questions about what the state’s experience was,” she said. “There was a lot of public discussion about other industries … and we couldn’t speak to anything about what the state was experiencing.”
In 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown's administration consolidated human resources responsibilities under the State Personnel Board and newly formed CalHR, requiring a significant bureaucratic overhaul.
Buried among the changes was the elimination of the state’s system for tracking harassment and discrimination complaints at government agencies.
It remains unclear why the state eliminated it. But the impact became clear.
In a December 2017 report — amid the #MeToo maelstrom — Richard Gillihan, former CalHR director and current COO at the Department of Finance, sounded the alarm.
“There is currently no method to analyze statewide discrimination complaint activity in California state government,” Gillihan wrote in the report. “Without data to review and analyze ... it is difficult to determine what actions should be taken to proactively address specific issues such as sexual harassment in the workplace."
As harassment allegations against high profile public officials surfaced in recent years, the Brown administration assembled a working group of state leaders to find ways government could improve its prevention and response to harassment and discrimination. One key finding: bring back the complaint tracking system.
The system was originally supposed to launch in late 2018 but faced delays.
Lamar with CalHR says the new system is substantially more efficient than the previous system and can log complaint data in real time.
The tool will also help the state hold agency directors accountable who fail to meet sexual harassment training compliance requirements. A CapRadio investigation found dozens of state agencies and departments in recent years failed to train nearly 1,800 supervisors in sexual harassment prevention, as required by state law.
“Is there a connection between a department that has a higher percentage of untrained folks and a high experience in complaints or settlements?” said Ortega in an interview last year. “I think we’ll be able to see some of that and go to that director and say, ‘You need to look at these issues.’”
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