The Navy is investigating allegations that the commander of the Naval Aviation Depot at North Island has made sexist and racist remarks to his civilian employees.
The probe, which is being handled by investigators for the Naval Air Systems Command in Washington, was prompted by complaints from female employees against Capt. Charles N. Sapp. The investigation began Wednesday and is expected to take a week.
In a letter mailed earlier this month to various government and Navy officials, the employees said Sapp "lacks the leadership skills to manage a multicultural work force." Furthermore, employees said Sapp "allows his personal prejudices to interfere with business decisions."
The letter, which detailed several allegations against Sapp, was signed "concerned female civil service employees."
Sapp replied to the allegations by asking for the investigation. Last week, he sent an open-letter to employees at the facility advising them of the upcoming probe and urged them to be "open and forthright" if questioned by the three investigators.
Naval Air Systems Command spokesman Roger Copeland said the investigation team is led by a Navy captain, who is white, and two civilian managers, one black and the other white, all of whom are men.
Sapp declined further comment until the investigation has ended.
According to the allegations listed in the employees' letter, Sapp has made several "sexist and racist remarks" while addressing ethnic groups at the base.
On one occasion, when asked to present awards to a group of Latino achievers at the base, Sapp allegedly began the presentation by saying that "I was expecting to pass out the Golden Burrito Award."
At another ceremony during Federal Women's Week, Sapp allegedly told an auditorium full of men and women that women "needed to stop bowling and start golfing in order to climb up the corporate ladder."
"His remarks were condescending, arrogant and unbecoming a . . . commanding officer," said the employee letter. " . . . We felt it was necessary to give you a few examples of Capt. Sapp's remarks so that you could understand why we are concerned about fair and equitable treatment."
Not all civilian employees, however, believe the allegations against Sapp.
Ross W. Kirk, president of International Assn. of Machinists Lodge 726, said the complaints originated from "sensitive-ridden women."
"I don't feel there's much merit to it," said Kirk, who said he is one-quarter Native American. "I've met with him several times, and I've never heard him say any racist or sexist comments, not even in jest."
Kirk brushed aside as a "non-issue" a remark he said was made by Sapp at a ceremony to honor Native Americans working at the base. Kirk said Sapp arrived late and apologized "for being late because I was on Indian time." Kirk said that Sapp also told the gathering that he had been talking "to the great white father in Washington."
"No, I wasn't offended by that. Not at all. I didn't think anything of it. Everybody joked it off," Kirk said.
Lodge 726 represents about 2,000 bargaining unit members at North Island. Kirk said that, to his knowledge, no union member has ever filed a discrimination complaint against Sapp.