The Public Eye

Sacramento City Council has inconsistent record of sexual harassment training

Councilman Allen Warren
Councilman Allen Warren

A state bill signed into law in 2004 requires that employers in California with more than 50 workers give sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisors every two years. The law – Assembly Bill 1825 – was inspired by groping allegations made against former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during the 2003 recall campaign; Schwarzenegger signed the bill.

While legislators at the state Capitol and their staffers are required to take anti-harassment training every two years, there appears to be some discrepancy over whether elected officials at the local level are doing the same.

At Sacramento City Hall, for example, some council members either haven’t taken sexual harassment prevention training offered by the city or haven’t taken a course in several years. Other council members said they received training from their private employers. City Attorney James Sanchez has told council members they are not required to undergo training, but that he strongly recommends that they do.

In a memo to council members sent in November 2013, Sanchez told the City Council that “elected officials are not generally considered employees of the city and therefore are not required to complete the training.”

“However, all electeds supervise employees on behalf of the city,” the memo continued. “This office strongly recommends that all electeds receive the training required under AB 1825. The fact that training was received would put the city and the elected in a better position to argue that the city had taken reasonable steps necessary to prevent and correct harassment and discrimination.”

The city’s policy will likely be strengthened in the weeks ahead after Mayor Kevin Johnson told his colleagues in an email Friday that he’s recommending every member of the council take harassment prevention training by the end of September. Johnson said he would also ask the city attorney to explore making the training a requirement in the future.

“While the training isn’t mandatory, I believe strongly that everyone should complete the training course,” the mayor wrote.

Johnson and Councilman Allen Warren have been named in sexual harassment claims this year. In May, Johnson was named in a claim made by a former staff aide to City Manager John Shirey. Johnson denied the allegations and the claim was later found to be unsubstantiated by both the city attorney and an outside law firm that specializes in labor law.

Then, on July 31, a former staffer in Warren’s office filed a claim alleging the councilman threatened to fire her if she ended their sexual relationship. The city attorney is investigating the claim, which Warren has denied.

Just three council members were included in a list of elected officials who have undergone training offered by the city. That list, compiled by the City Clerk’s Office, was obtained by The Sacramento Bee through the Public Records Act.

Council members Warren, Jeff Harris and Rick Jennings have taken city-sponsored training since last year, records show. Harris and Jennings took the training this year and Warren took the course in August 2014.

Council members not in the city’s records for training include Councilman Steve Hansen, who asked the city auditor Tuesday to review the city’s sexual harassment policies. Hansen said he took the training through his former private employer, biotech firm Genentech. He said he could not recall the exact date of the training, but said it was “probably in 2013.”

Training received through another employer qualifies under the state law.

“I’m glad to see the mayor stepping up and trying to lead in making sure we have a safe work environment,” Hansen said. “People are finally pulling their heads out of the sand and acknowledging we can do better.”

Councilman Larry Carr – elected last year – was also not in the city clerk’s records. However, Carr said he took the course on Friday after he was notified by The Bee he wasn’t on record for doing so. Before Friday, Carr said he wasn’t aware the city offered the training.

Johnson’s spokesman, Ben Sosenko, said the mayor took a training course early in his first term; Johnson was first elected in 2008. City records only go back to 2012 and the exact date of Johnson’s training session was not available. Sosenko said the mayor will undergo training again before the end of next month.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said she took a course soon after she was first elected in 2010. She said Friday she was planning to take the training again this year.

Councilman Jay Schenirer said he took the training course “a couple months ago” through Capitol Impact, the education policy organization he helps run. Councilman Eric Guerra, a staffer in the state Capitol, said he took the training recently through that job, but is also signed up to take the training through the city later this month.

Jane Brunner, who served on the Oakland City Council for 16 years and is an attorney specializing in labor law, said council members in her city took harassment prevention courses. She said she recommends that all elected officials take the training and said courses that are currently given online should instead be given in person.

“(Council members) may not technically consider themselves managers, but they are in a supervisory role and they can intimidate someone, and they should know what sexual harassment is,” she said. “There’s a sense of power that some people get in elected office, a sense that they’re above the law, and it’s incredibly important that they realize they’re not.”

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