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L.A.'s new site to report harassment and bias has received a complaint against Councilman José Huizar

L.A.'s new site to report harassment and bias has received a complaint against Councilman José Huizar
Los Angeles City Council Councilman Jose Huizar, speaking at a meeting in April, is the subject of a complaint being processed by the city's personnel department. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson has instructed the city's personnel department to convene a special panel to look into a complaint of harassment, discrimination and retaliation against Councilman Jose Huizar, officials said this week.

The complaint was filed on MyVoiceLA, Mayor Eric Garcetti's new website for staffers, city commissioners and others to report workplace bias, retaliation and sexual harassment. Personnel spokesman Bruce Whidden said Wesson was notified of the complaint Sept. 13 and called for the formation of the five-member committee a day later.

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The committee is formed any time an elected city official becomes the target of a complaint involving harassment or discrimination. Wesson’s action last week marks the second time that the panel, known formally as the Special Committee on Investigative Oversight, has been called to look into an allegation involving Huizar.

By law, the committee must decide whether a complaint is serious enough to warrant the hiring of an independent investigator. If a probe is carried out, the panel then would review the findings and forward them to the council for any action.

“Council President Wesson takes personnel issues very seriously, and as such immediately authorized the personnel department to pursue the matter,” said Wesson spokeswoman Vanessa Rodriguez, who declined to comment further.

Huizar, in a prepared statement, said Thursday that he was not aware of any details of a complaint and therefore could not comment on it.

“I take great pains to ensure that my staff and I conduct city business in a professional environment and treat all employees and visitors with the upmost dignity and respect,” he said. “Given that, I am quite frankly confounded under what basis anyone would have to file a legitimate complaint. Obviously, I take this matter seriously and look forward to a full, transparent and expeditious resolution.”

Whidden did not identify the person who filed the complaint, saying the accuser’s identity must remain confidential. However, he said the allegations against Huizar include harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

The complaint was made June 20 on MyVoiceLA, while the web portal still was undergoing testing, Whidden said. The website had been unveiled by Garcetti two months earlier.

Wesson was informed of the complaint on the same day that Huizar’s wife, City Commissioner Richelle Huizar, announced her decision to run for her husband’s seat in the 2020 election. Huizar, who represents neighborhoods stretching from Boyle Heights to Eagle Rock, is being termed out of office.

Wesson has instructed officials to convene the special committee once before, in 2013, to look into claims of sexual harassment filed against Huizar by Francine Godoy, his former deputy chief of staff.

Godoy alleged that Huizar had retaliated against her after she refused to provide him with "sexual favors." She also accused the councilman of forcing her to transfer to a different job and pressuring her to quit.

At the time, Huizar called Godoy's allegations “false and malicious.” He said he had engaged in a consensual extramarital affair with his aide, whose pay jumped from $47,000 to more than $132,000 during her seven years in his office, according to personnel officials.

Godoy declined to be interviewed for the committee’s investigation, arguing that the process was tainted since its findings would be forwarded to Wesson, a Huizar ally. While the committee was looking into her claims, Wesson endorsed Huizar’s reelection bid and referred to him as his “best friend” on the council.

According to an excerpt of the panel's findings obtained by The Times in 2014, the committee did not find evidence of harassment. The city did not release the full report, calling its contents confidential.

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Godoy separately filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, which was settled privately by Huizar five months before his reelection in 2015. At the time, a Huizar spokesman declined to say whether the councilman had paid Godoy to resolve the case.

Under the city’s rules, the special committee must be composed of two former judges, one male and one female; two law school professors, one male and one female; and one member of the American Arbitration Assn. The panel has met five times since it was formed in the 1990s.

4:15 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Huizar.

This article originally published at 1:30 p.m.

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