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L.A. council members call for big changes in sex harassment training

October 23, 2013|By David Zahniser
  • Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez celebrates with supporters after winning the special election for the central San Fernando Valley's District 6 seat in July.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez celebrates with supporters… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Two members of the Los Angeles City Council called Wednesday for major changes to the city’s sexual harassment training, saying every employee should take the sessions, not just managers.

Council President Herb Wesson and Councilwoman Nury Martinez -- the only female member -- also said in their proposal that sexual harassment training should be done in person, not through the two-hour online sessions currently required.

Wesson said he did not view the proposal as a response to the two high-profile sexual harassment lawsuits filed in recent weeks against Councilman Jose Huizar and John Lee, chief of staff to Councilman Mitchell Englander. Huizar and Englander have both called allegations in the respective lawsuits untrue.

“I do not believe that we have a problem in City Hall,” Wesson said. “I do think from time to time these things come up and it’s our responsibility to try to reduce the number of times that they come up.”

Martinez, who is also the council's newest member, said she has been concerned for weeks that the city's training is not as extensive as the kind required at the state level. "I was starting to look into this issue already, and in light of the current lawsuits, it's something we obviously need to look at," she said.

The city currently requires that roughly 10,000 managers and supervisors take a two-hour sexual harassment training course that is online only, according to officials with the Personnel Department. The proposal from Wesson and Martinez would not only make the training in person but also dramatically expand the number who would take it.

Raelynn Napper, who runs the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity division, found the prospect of an in-person training for roughly 45,000 city employees daunting.  “We would have to be training 180 people a day, every day, to hit every employee within a year,” she said.

Wesson and Martinez also proposed mandatory in-person ethics training every two years for the city's politicians and high-level officials. And they pushed for mandatory in-person workplace violence training every two years for every worker.

That idea comes just a few months before the city’s Personnel Department is scheduled to begin using a new online workplace violence prevention training program. Maggie Whelan, general manager of the Personnel Department, said in-person training will be considerably more costly for the city.

“If we had the resources to give stand-up training, that would be great,” she said. “But frankly, we had resorted to the electronic training because it is the best way to reach the largest number of employees efficiently and cost effectively.”

Asked about the potential cost of expanded training, Martinez said she is "more concerned about protecting the workers."

"If there's costs incurred as a result of making sure everyone gets trained appropriately, then that's what we have to do as a city," she added.


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Twitter: @davidzahniser

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