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LA County supervisors press for better sexual harassment policies

Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, formerly Los Angeles County Hall of Administration. jann_on/Flickr Creative Commons

Several Los Angeles County supervisors challenged officials in charge of sexual harassment policies to make it easier for county workers to file complaints and see them resolved, with one suggesting penalties for misbehavior may need to be toughened.

The supervisors heard recommendations Tuesday from county agencies to improve the county's practices in dealing with sexual harassment complaints following intense concern across the country about reported cases of abuse and assault.

Among the recommendations from county staff: increase resources to carry out county policies and improve compliance with mandatory training requirements. But supervisors raised questions suggesting that officials need to do more.

Supervisor Janice Hahn criticized the county's bureaucratic language on its website where people can file reports of sexual harassment, citing it as a potential obstacle for women who may want to make a  complaint. 

"This is not user friendly," Hahn said of the site.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl called the county's approach "wonderful," but she wondered aloud whether the county's punishments are strict enough. She pointed to companies that have responded to allegations of sexual harassment by firing high-profile employees, such as NBC's Matt Lauer.

"I think it's important for people to know we are very serious about there being consequences," Kuehl said.

Throughout the discussion, the supervisors expressed broad support for the county's current practices, but also said there's room for improvement. 

Last week, the supervisors directed the Executive Office, County Counsel staff and the Department of Human Resources to provide a fast-tracked assessment of the county's sexual harassment policies.

Beyond additional resources and better training compliance, county officials recommended more outreach to county workers informing them of the county's policies and reporting procedures. They also called for a review of how sexual harassment policies apply to the county's outside contractors.

"I know we still have a lot of work to do," Supervisor Hilda Solis said following the presentation by officials. "At least it’s a start." 

Solis is expected to author a motion to implement the recommendations. The board would vote on them next week.

Los Angeles County employs about 110,000 people, making it one of the largest local governments in the country. Sexual harassment is one of several forms of workplace discrimination covered by the county's equity policy, which has been in place since 2011. 

Since that year, the county has received about 27,000 complaints from its employees, covering a range of allegations, including claims of age and sexual orientation discrimination. 

Sexual harassment, however, ranks among the top complaint categories, and the county reported an uptick in such cases following allegations in recent months against powerful men in entertainment, media and politics.

County workers can report any workplace problems under the equity policy through several avenues including a county phone hotline, mail, fax, and online system.