California’s job-discrimination watchdog faces an investigation into its own personnel practices after a state panel concluded it twice promoted an employee into jobs for which she wasn’t qualified.
Department of Fair Employment and Housing officials said during a recent hearing that they didn’t violate civil service laws requiring state jobs go to the most qualified applicants. But the State Personnel Board, which enforces the government’s merit principle, said in a ruling published Monday that the case raises “serious concerns that civil service laws and rules pertaining to the selection of qualified candidates are being willfully ignored or disregarded by DFEH’s personnel and management staff.”
The five-member panel ordered its auditors go back to the department to look for “any other violations of the civil service rules” going back to 2009 and to determine whether any individuals should be disciplined.
The decision heightens scrutiny of Director Phyllis Cheng’s department, which handles workplace and housing discrimination complaints. Recent news reports examined allegations that it allowed investigations to languish, struggled to launch a new computer system and quietly signed off on an agreement several years ago that allows the Governor's Office to veto without public disclosure any discrimination complaints filed by public employees.
The Personnel Board said that Angelina Endsley acted in good faith when she applied for the promotions, so she won’t have to repay salary she earned from them. Still, she will have to leave her administrative job earning $5,576 per month for the $4,033-per-month legal analyst position she held before the promotions.
The department, however, made the promotions knowing that they were unlawful, the board ruled. Such bad faith rulings are extremely rare, said personnel board spokeswoman Pat McConahay.
“We don’t know of any recent cases,” she said.
When asked whether Fair Employment might take the case to civil court, spokeswoman Fahizah Alim responded with an emailed statement: “The Department respects the decision of the State Personnel Board, we look forward to working with SPB on the audit and correcting any issues that may have occurred in our hiring processes.”
Endsley “is a hard-working employee, who is committed to civil rights, and has an exemplary record of performance,” Alim said.
Personnel Board auditors were checking on Fair Employment’s personnel practices last year when they learned of Endsley’s unusual promotional pattern: She joined the state in August 2012 and then was twice promoted over the next 17 months, landing a supervisory position.
Endsley had some college credit and five years in the public and private sectors as a paralegal and legal analyst, but that wasn’t enough education or experience for either promotion, the board ruled, confirming what some department human resources staff said they had told their superiors.
Shortly after Endsley’s first promotion, “there was a contentious discussion within the DFEH personnel shop” about Endley’s qualifications, according to a summary of a hearing into the case. The summary said a human resources officer suggested the promotion should be investigated, but that a superior shut down debate by saying Fair Employment Deputy Director Monica Rea was aware of the issue and wanted it to happen anyway.
A few months later, the personnel employee who lost the argument pushed through Endsley’s second promotion, convinced “that taking her concerns to Rea would be futile,” the summary said.
Rea didn’t return requests for comment Monday. Punishment for an employee who knowingly circumvented civil service law ranges from informal counseling or a written reprimand to suspension, demotion or termination, depending on the severity of the violation.