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2 L.A. council members urge changes in city's sex harassment training

Council President Herb Wesson says his and Councilwoman Nury Martinez's proposal is not a response to two high-profile lawsuits.

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

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

Council President Herb Wesson and Councilwoman Nury Martinez — the lawmaking body's only woman member — also said in their proposal that sexual harassment training should be done in person, not through the two-hour online sessions now required.

Wesson said he did not view the proposal as a response to the 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 had been concerned for weeks that the city's training was not as extensive as the kind required at the state government 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 now requires that roughly 10,000 managers and supervisors take a two-hour sexual harassment training course that is online only, according to Personnel Department officials. Wesson and Martinez have called for new laws that would not only make sure the training is conducted in person but dramatically expand the number of people who would take it.

RaeLynn Napper, who runs the city's Equal Employment Opportunity division, found the prospect of such an in-person training for roughly 45,000 full-time 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 higher-level officials. Like the harassment training, those sessions — provided to at least 5,000 employees — are predominantly conducted online, according to an Ethics Commission official. They also pushed for mandatory in-person workplace violence training every two years for every worker.

The latter idea comes just a few months before the 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 would cost considerably more.

"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 if she was worried about the potential cost of expanded training, Martinez said she was "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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