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California Government Agencies Are Lagging In Providing Sexual Harassment Training

California law requires sexual harassment training for supervisors in most workplaces—including state government. But a Capital Public Radio investigation found dozens of agencies have failed to comply with the law in recent years. Reporter Scott Rodd has the story. 

The Me Too movement did not spare California government...Several lawmakers resigned amid sexual harassment allegations, while others faced investigations.

Female staffers, lobbyists and consultants also brought their message directly to lawmakers...

[MONTAGE OF WOMEN TESTIFYING: ~:22 WITH FADE IN/OUT]

...The state Capitol became a lightning rod for their frustration. But the problem goes beyond the Legislature.

A CapRadio review of state records and found dozens of agencies failed to provide sexual harassment training to supervisors...in violation of state law. Since 2016, state audits identified nearly 1,800 supervisors who did not receive the necessary training.

Suzanne Ambrose is executive officer of the State Personnel Board and oversaw the audits.

HARASSTRAIN-1 AMBROSE: “Supervisors who aren’t aware of those requirements or don’t know how to identify sexual harassment—we can assume they’re not in there proactively addressing it.” (:12)

Last year, about 60 percent of the agencies surveyed by the board did not provide sexual harassment training to all of their supervisors.

That can lead to a toxic workplace culture, says attorney Jessica Stender with the group Equal Rights Advocates.

HARASSTRAIN-1 STENDER2: “It’s part of a broader power structure that often keeps women and others from succeeding in the workplace.”

Some agencies failed to train hundreds of supervisors.

The Department of Corrections topped the list by a wide margin...failing to train nearly 700.

The agency says it implemented a new training system and has since reduced the number of untrained supervisors to about 80.

Democratic Assemblywoman Laura Friedman chairs a subcommittee on sexual harassment prevention. When I presented the findings of our investigation, she bristled at the numbers

HARASSTRAIN-1 FRIEDMAN: “It’s inexcusable that particularly government agencies aren’t taking their responsibilities seriously.” (:07)

She adds that failing to train supervisors can be costly for the state.

HARASSTRAIN-1 FRIEDMAN: “Certainly places them at legal risk, placing taxpayer dollars in jeopardy in case there’s a lawsuit. Because supervisors are often the front line of adequately dealing with a harassment complaint.” (:13)

Case in point: California has paid more than $15 million dollars in recent years to settle sexual harassment complaints against the Department of Corrections alone.

So, with all these agencies failing to train supervisors, who’s in charge of enforcement? Well...it’s complicated.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing is responsible for penalizing agencies that don’t provide sexual harassment training...but it has never issued a violation.

Director Kevin Kish claims his department lacks the tools to proactively enforce the law.

Instead, he says the department often finds out about the failure to train supervisors only after someone files a sexual harassment complaint.

Sarah Reyes is the former Assemblywoman who wrote the law on sexual harassment training in 2004. She insists lawmakers need to take action.

HARASSTRAIN-1 REYES: “I would appeal to the Legislature that they shine a light on this. That they audit these state agencies and they bring them before them and say, ‘Why have you been out of compliance?” (:11)

According to Reyes, lawmakers didn’t support a strict penalty when she first introduced the statute.

But she says the state’s failure to follow its own law means it’s time to put some teeth in it.

From Sacramento, I’m Scott Rodd.

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