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Mayor's office won't talk about 'inappropriate behavior' among Garcetti staff

Mayor's office won't talk about 'inappropriate behavior' among Garcetti staff
Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, and City Councilwoman Nury Martinez, center, listen to a panel of women discuss their experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace during the Getty House Foundation Women's Leadership Series in Los Angeles on April 30. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti moved quickly to address sexual harassment at City Hall after allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein last fall sparked nationwide outrage over unwanted behavior in the workplace.

Garcetti ordered new reporting protocols, unveiled a city website for workers to lodge allegations and hosted a panel at the mayor’s official residence on sexual harassment and assault.

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At the same time, officials have provided no details about instances of “inappropriate behavior” reported by staff members in Garcetti’s office since he was elected in 2013.

The Times first asked mayoral spokesman Alex Comisar in January if any staffers working in Garcetti’s office have complained to supervisors about sexual harassment, harassment or hostility.

“There have been a few incidents of inappropriate behavior reported to supervisors, and they were each handled appropriately,” Comisar said.

Comisar declined to answer questions beyond his statement and would not detail the exact number of reports made by staff. He also would not say when the reports were made, characterize the alleged inappropriate behavior, or say what, if any, discipline occurred.

He would not say if Garcetti was informed about the misconduct. In April, the mayor indicated he didn’t know of any incidents when asked if his office had dealt with harassment allegations.

“I don’t think any office is ever immune,” Garcetti said. “I mean I think jokes are told, things happen, people are survivors.”

Subsequent public records requests by The Times failed to produce documents related to the reports of improper conduct.

Jessica Stender, senior counsel at San Francisco-based nonprofit Equal Rights Advocates, said the mayor’s office should explain what it considers inappropriate behavior and how it handled the reports.

It’s possible to divulge details about the complaints while keeping the parties’ identities confidential, Stender said.

“Transparency to me is critical, and you can’t fix what you can’t see,” Stender said.

Los Angeles City Hall has largely avoided the uprising seen at the state Capitol, where allegations of a pervasive culture of harassment sparked reforms in how claims against legislators and senior staff are made public.

As the #MeToo movement gained steam last fall, Garcetti ordered an overhaul of the city’s system for reporting misconduct. Now, departments must notify the Personnel Department about complaints. In turn, that department will catalog the number of complaints filed in each office, spokesman Bruce Whidden said.

Previously, elected officials and departments could seek to deal with allegations internally, away from the public view, which made it difficult to know the total number of complaints lodged by city workers.

Though the mayor’s office declined to talk about the reports filed, other city departments were more forthcoming when queried by The Times.

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A spokesman for the city attorney's office said last year that six complaints alleging sexual harassment were made to supervisors in that department since 2013. The city's Department of Aging received two complaints of sexual harassment, harassment or hostility during that time, according to a spokeswoman.

In response to a February public records request, the mayor’s office said no records existed of employee complaints of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, harassment or bullying.

The public generally has a right to access disciplinary records of government employees where the charges are well-founded or true, or discipline is imposed, according to published California appellate cases going back to 1978.

The Times asked Comisar why no documents pertaining to harassment were produced after the paper’s request. In an email to The Times in March, Comisar wrote, “Historically, city policies and procedures on sexual harassment did not mandate the preparation and preservation of formal, written reports in all situations.”

He added that the mayor now requires all departments to file formal incident reports with the Personnel Department within 48 hours of becoming aware of the incident.

Meanwhile, under longstanding city requirements, department supervisors must take online harassment training. But regular employees aren’t required to take the two-hour exercise.

However, Garcetti last year ordered his own staff to take in-person harassment training, Comisar said. Training for nearly 200 people was conducted at a cost of $1,650, which was paid for by the mayor’s office, Comisar said.

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