City Beat

Sacramento City Hall wants women to come forward if sexually harassed

Sacramento City Hall, April 29, 2014.
Sacramento City Hall, April 29, 2014.

As women continue to shine a light on a culture of sexual harassment and assault in the state Capitol, the city of Sacramento is telling employees that they have several safe avenues to come forward with their claims.

Sacramento City Hall, with its own history of sexual harassment allegations, is “committed to doing everything (it) can to make it crystal clear sexual harassment will not be tolerated,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg and City Manager Howard Chan wrote in a letter to city employees Monday.

“We also recognize that even City Hall is susceptible to the destructive effects of sexual harassment and understand the way that we, as new leaders of our city government, talk and act about sexual harassment sets the tone and expectations for our entire organization,” the letter reads.

Steinberg said in an interview that the letter was not written in response to recent allegations at City Hall, but instead to “recognize that the single biggest issue here is the genuine fear that women have in coming forward.”

“What I’m absolutely committed to is working with our city family to ensure that there are multiple safe pathways for women to report whenever they feel uncomfortable or have been victimized in any way,” the mayor said.

In addition to an anonymous whistleblower hotline already in place, Steinberg said he may organize a group of veteran female city employees who would hear complaints by other workers and “help guide the person who has been harassed to get redress.”

“All leaders in our organization must reflect on why this fear (to report harassment) exists and what safe pathways we must create or improve for women and men to comfortably and readily step forward,” the letter to city employees reads. “We need your strong input and advice on this most important challenge.”

Former Mayor Kevin Johnson was accused of sexual harassment by an employee in the city manager’s office in 2015. Johnson denied any wrongdoing and the woman’s claim was rejected by a city investigation.

Later that year, a city employee filed a sexual harassment claim against Councilman Allen Warren, which the city also rejected. The woman, Delia Chacon, later withdrew her claim and released a statement apologizing for “any negative impact her allegations may have had on Councilmember Warren or the city.”

While the claims did not result in findings of wrongdoing, they pushed the city to audit and revise its policies on claims of harassment and discrimination. The city last year adopted tougher enforcement and broader definitions on what qualifies as harassing behavior.

Steinberg is a former assemblyman and president of the state Senate. He said there were “very few formal complaints” of harassment in the Capitol during his tenure there.

“But on reflection, I’ve recognized that all leaders at all levels of government and industry need to look deep and ask what do we do to assure a culture where women feel safe about coming forward,” he said.

Women and men alike have taken to social media recently to post "#MeToo" to raise awareness for the number of victims of sexual harassment and assault. People were encouraged to tweet the hashtag if they had been victims of these themselves.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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