O.C. Calls Sex Harassment Probe Faulty

Times Staff Writer

Orange County conducted a "less than thorough" investigation into alleged sexual harassment in the county's human resources department, officials conceded Tuesday in their response to a grand jury report that criticized the internal probe.

The findings come four months after the grand jury accused the county's former top executive officer of failing to adequately investigate allegations that the department was plagued by sexual harassment, a hostile work environment and retaliation by top managers.

The former CEO, Michael Schumacher, learned about the allegations in 2001 but failed to interview any witnesses and dropped the matter after the managers denied the allegations, according to the grand jury report, released in March.

After the report's release, the county hired an independent consulting firm to investigate the allegations. The group's report is expected next month.

The complaints included allegations that top management in the office used sexually suggestive language and subjected employees to unwelcome questions about their personal behavior and appearance. One duty of the human resources department is maintaining a harassment-free environment for all county workers.

After the grand jury report, the county initially defended its actions in the 2001 inquiry, noting in a preliminary response that an attorney determined that the investigation was adequate.

But at the urging of the Board of Supervisors, top county officials drafted a new response that labeled Schumacher's inquiry insufficient.

Under state law, the county was required to respond to the grand jury report.

"I think the second response was more accurate," Supervisor Chris Norby said.

"Had it been addressed sooner, more thoroughly, then the grand jury wouldn't have come up with this finding. But, as they say, better late than never."

The allegations of sexual harassment are part of a storm of criticism that has plagued the human resources department in recent months.

Norby and other supervisors have questioned the department for approving thousands of hours of paid administrative leave for workers under investigation and for negotiating generous benefit increases for workers.

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