LA's Sexual Harassment Problem Is Not Just Hollywood. It's City Hall. It's LAPD. And Troubles Remain.
A claim that explicit nude photos were passed around the Los Angeles Police Department has brought renewed attention to efforts to stop sexual harassment among city workers. The latest push comes 10 months after Mayor Eric Garcetti called for concrete steps to make city offices discrimination free.
Last week, two city councilmembers formally asked for an update on this effort. When Garcetti issued his order last year, he set a deadline of October 2018 for a plan to implement recommendations. Instead, the full city council is still waiting.
It's already been a long road. The mayor's order from last April notes the goal of a discrimination-free workplace dates back to 1992.
KPCC/LAist has been closely following issues related to sexual harassment in both the county and city workforces. Last October, we published an exclusive investigation detailing more than $36.3 million in L.A. County payouts and legal fees spent to resolve misconduct claims between July 2004 and June 2017. Previously, we reported more than $8 million in sexual harassment claims and judgments at the city level.
Here's a quick history of how we got to where we are today:
ALLEGATIONS AGAINST CITY COUNCILMEMBERS
In August 2014, the city of Los Angeles agrees to pay $75,000 to resolve sexual harassment allegations made by a former female field deputy against then-Councilman Mitchell Englander.
The woman accused Englander of making sexually inappropriate remarks including questioning whether she wanted to "walk into the fire stations and be naked in front of the male firefighters." Englander, who until recently represented communities including Northridge and Reseda, has said the claims were false.
Then in October of the same year, a former aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar agrees to a settlement ending a sexual harassment case she filed against him. The agreement reportedly did not involve a payout from the city.
The lawsuit alleged Huizar — who is currently at the center of an FBI probe into corruption at City Hall — had retaliated after the woman refused to provide him with sexual favors. Huizar has said those allegations are false but that he did have an extramarital affair with the woman, who at the time worked for him. Huizar's district includes downtown L.A. and Boyle Heights.
Two blockbuster news reports in October 2017, published by the New York Times and the New Yorker, detail decades of allegations of sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein, an award-winning film producer.
Shortly after, actress Alyssa Milano uses the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter and it is widely reshared. Milano resurfaced the phrase, which was first used by black civil rights activist Tarana Burke when she founded the movement in 2006.
WIDESPREAD PROBLEMS EMERGE
Details of widespread problems in the city of Los Angeles emerge during a city council meeting in November 2017. Among them:
- No centralized tracking system for complaints of sexual harassment
- Problems with training practices for managers
- A one-year limitation on reporting sexual harassment claims
- Lack of follow through on worker complaints of sexual harassment
The City Council backs a proposal calling for the city to examine the feasibility of a telephone hotline and website to make the reporting of sexual harassment complaints easier for employees.
In addition, the executive director of L.A. County's unit that covers workplace conduct issues reports an uptick in complaints of sexual harassment among county workers.
In national headlines that same month, Matt Lauer is fired by NBC News after a female colleague accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior.
HARD LOOK AT ACCOUNTABILITY
In December 2017, L.A. City officials put a new data collection system in place and start requiring all city departments to report sexual harassment incidents within 48 hours of learning about them.
At L.A. County, the Board of Supervisors orders a review of current County practices.
WORKING GROUP BEGINS IN L.A.
The city establishes a Harassment and Discrimination Working Group in January 2018 with representatives from across city departments. The group is put in place by the Mayor's Risk Reduction Cabinet.
SCOPE OF PROBLEMS WIDENS
During a city council meeting in February 2018 a top city personnel official reports a dramatic increase in sexual harassment allegations since the new data collection system began. The city's personnel department received 26 reports of misconduct in the two months after the new protocol was introduced in mid-December 2018. That's compared to just 35 reports of misconduct between 2013 and 2017.
KPCC reports that the city has paid out $8 million in sexual harassment claims and judgments since mid-2011. More than three-quarters of those payouts, representing more than $6 million in city money, were connected to the Los Angeles Police Department.
EMPLOYEE SURVEY LAUNCHED
All sworn and civilian city employees receive an email in March 2018 asking them to take an employee survey. The survey includes questions such as whether they've personally experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and whether they heard back after reporting incidents following the investigation.
MAYOR ISSUES EXECUTIVE DIRECTIVE
Garcetti issues an executive directive in April 2018 calling for widespread reform on the handling of sexual harassment and workplace conduct issues. New city website launches in beta version, aimed at easing the process for city workers to file complaints of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
The city's personnel department begins accepting claims without time limits.
Meanwhile, the results of that city survey are released. It finds 18 percent of city workers report being sexually harassed — far greater numbers than the city's personnel department had collected through complaint tracking. The city's workforce is made up of about 44,000 employees — 4,200 employees responded to the survey.
CITY STARTS HIRING
In July 2018, the Personnel Department adds a Harassment and Discrimination Intake Unit. Additional hiring of staff to handle complaints begins.
CITY LAUNCHES FULL WEBSITE
In September 2018, the city's misconduct reporting website moves out of beta form and into full launch. Capabilities now include a new case management system that manages complaints from start to finish in the same interface.
A complaint about Councilman Jose Huizar comes in through the website, though the details remain unclear.
In national headlines, Bill Cosby is sentenced to at least three years in prison after he is convicted on three counts of felony sexual assault.
L.A. COUNTY INVESTIGATION
A KPCC/LAist investigation published in October 2018 reports sexual harassment among county workers is a persistent and expensive problem. Among the findings:
- Some employees who filed formal complaints said they never heard back from county authorities. In other cases, the county's response was delayed months and sometimes even years.
- County Staffers for then- Supervisor Michael Antonovich talked about the need to "protect" their boss as they allegedly violated county policies in handling a workplace harassment case involving colleagues.
- An outsized share of the county's sexual misconduct cases originated within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
- In several cases, the amount the county spent on attorneys' fees rivaled or topped the payout to victims.
THE LATEST CITY DEVELOPMENT
In January 2019, a lawsuit brought by LAPD captain Lillian Carranza alleges that a sexually explicit photo was passed around by officers, detectives, lieutenants and others. Carranza's suit claims that even though she is not in the photo, LAPD employees falsely identified it as her and made derogatory comments about her.
She also claims in court documents that photos said to be of another female employee were circulated, and that department protocols weren't followed once the behavior was reported. Among them: Carranza says LAPD Internal Affairs took no steps to inform her of the misconduct or protect her from ongoing harassment after they were notified of it.
LAPD declined our request for comment on her allegations.
After Carranza's suit is filed, Councilmembers Nury Martinez and Paul Krekorian submit a motion requesting an update on progress in an effort to spur reform. The city's Personnel Department is asked to send the working group report to Council for their review.
The mayor's office reports that between April 30, 2018 and Jan. 29, 2019 the city's website received 80 complaints of workplace misconduct.
Aaron Mendelson contributed to this report.