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When LA County Workers File Harassment Complaints, Sometimes Nothing Happens To The Accused

Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration houses the Los Angeles County Equity Oversight Panel. Photo by Susanica Tan.
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If you're a Los Angeles County worker and file a harassment complaint, you likely expect something will get done.

Not always the case, says an audit recently released by the L.A. County auditor-controller.

The review covered the county's system of handling workplace conduct complaints, including sexual harassment and things like race and age discrimination, and the discipline that was recommended in several dozen cases from October 2015 to October 2016.

The audit found nearly half resulted in reduced levels of discipline or no discipline at all.

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Here's more that you may want to know:

Q: What's behind this audit?

The county says the audit was scheduled even before last year's coverage of sexual misconduct accusations leveled against high-profile men in the entertainment, media and other industries.

But after those headlines, the Board of Supervisors called for a review of the way the county handles harassment and other misconduct complaints filed by its huge workforce.

At the center of the review is the County Equity Oversight Panel, the little-known agency that's responsible for reviewing investigations and recommending discipline in cases where employees have been accused of violating county policies.

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Q: And what did the audit find?

That the system sometimes falls short. That tracking the complaints when it comes to any discipline that's handed out needs improving, and that the processing of the cases needs to be more timely.

Discipline can run the gamut, from written reprimands to firings, and the oversight panel makes recommendations to the departments. The departments can sometimes reduce the recommended discipline that the oversight panel recommends, but they must say why in a letter.

The auditor recommends that all discipline outcomes -- including whether the discipline is appealed -- should be tracked. That way, the oversight panel would get a better handle on why the discipline was reduced or not carried out.

Timeliness is another problem: in some cases, the oversight panel's recommended discipline wasn't implemented for over six months. In one case, it languished for over a year.

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On average, it took 18 months from the time a complaint was filed to the discipline being imposed.

Officials pointed to staff shortages, turnover, and competing priorities for the delays.

Q: So what else does the auditor want to fix?

Beyond tracking the cases, the audit recommends the oversight panel evaluate why the departments reduced the discipline that was recommended. It also calls on the oversight panel to work with the departments and troubleshoot any issues so the complaints can be addressed in a timely way.

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