The State Worker

California program to track state worker harassment is a year behind schedule

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Tyann Sorrell, an executive assistant in the UC Berkeley School of Law, accused the new dean, Sujit Choudhry, of inappropriately hugging, touching and kissing her after his arrival in 2014.
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Tyann Sorrell, an executive assistant in the UC Berkeley School of Law, accused the new dean, Sujit Choudhry, of inappropriately hugging, touching and kissing her after his arrival in 2014.

A $1.5 million project to start tracking sexual harassment and discrimination in California state government is scheduled to be fully functional by January 2020 — a full year later than originally planned.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown proposed the project as a first step to start addressing allegations of gender-based harassment in state government that were coming out amid the #MeToo movement.

The state didn’t have a way to track complaints across its 150 departments, so it couldn’t identify problem departments or track employees who moved among departments after settling harassment cases. An investigation The Sacramento Bee published in January 2018 found the state paid more than $25 million over three years to settle sexual harassment claims.

Brown’s budget requested $1.5 million to hire a contractor and three employees and build a system to start tracking complaints government-wide. CalHR would operate it and the tool would be ready by December 2018, according to a budget request the Legislature later approved.

Eraina Ortega, who was appointed CalHR director from a different state department three months ago, said that time line was “probably not realistic” from the start.

Ortega said the system will be ready for training and testing across state departments next month. She expects all the state’s departments to be using it by the beginning of next year.

Once the system is operational, each department will enter all new discrimination complaints — including harassment claims based on gender, race, sexual orientation and other characteristics protected under the law — into the system on an ongoing basis, she said. Departments won’t upload complaints filed before the system comes online, she said.

CalHR will be able to see all of the information the departments enter, including names of people under investigation, updates as cases progress and outcomes including settlement payments.

Ortega said she doesn’t anticipate running job candidates’ names through the system during the hiring process.

She said she expects the data to reveal next steps.

“We’re not sure what we don’t know yet,” she said.

As an example, she said that if the data show investigations are taking a long time in some departments, CalHR could look for ways to help speed them up.

The $1.5 million program accompanied other efforts to address discrimination in state government, including new training for Equal Employment Opportunity staffers in each department and sexual harassment training for non-supervisors.

Even supervisors haven’t been getting the training they were supposed to, according to a Capitol Public Radio investigation. The station cited a State Personnel Board report that found 10 of 17 departments the board reviewed weren’t in compliance with training requirements.

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