Employees required to attend workplace behavior seminars
following loss of lawsuit which raised questions about
Gilroy – Local officials are requiring all city employees to attend seminars on appropriate workplace behavior after losing a court battle that raised serious questions about the city’s sexual harassment policies.
Officials said, however, that the seminars come in response to state legislation calling for such training by year’s end.
“It’s not a reaction at all (to the court case),” Mayor Al Pinheiro said. “It’s just business as usual … You can’t very well say you have a (sexual harassment) policy and not convey that to the rest of the employees.”
The city’s training program goes beyond the mandates of the state law, AB 1825, which requires only that managers and supervisors undergo two hours of training every two years. Supervisors in Gilroy will receive three hours of training, while “non-supervisory employees” will attend two-hour sessions.
Human Resources Director LeeAnn McPhillips informed the city’s roughly 270 employees of the mandatory sessions in a Nov. 8 e-mail.
“As you know, the City of Gilroy maintains a zero tolerance policy regarding any form of discrimination or harassment,” she wrote, “and training is an important part of educating our employees regarding our policy and procedures should an issue arise.”
The announcement came a day after McPhillips met with City Council behind closed doors to discuss the fallout from a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by Rex Wyatt, a former building official fired on sexual harassment and other charges. Last month, a judge overturned the city’s decision to fire Wyatt and ordered him reinstated with full back pay.
In his suit, Wyatt criticized the city’s sexual harassment policy as “arbitrary, capricious, overbroad and vague” – all charges the city continues to deny.
“The zero tolerance policy that the city has had for a long time is trained, talked about, and dealt with,” Baksa said. “There is certainly nothing arbitrary or capricious about a zero tolerance policy on harassment. You cannot have a policy that allows a little harassment.”
But Steven Fink, the attorney who represented Wyatt, argues the zero tolerance policy is not written down anywhere in the city’s rules or regulations. Further, he argued that no city employee could reasonably be expected to abide by a standard that encompasses “anything sexual in any context.”
“This zero tolerance policy is a silly shibboleth,” Fink said. “What are you talking about? It doesn’t mean anything. Nobody’s in favor of sexual harassment, but you’ve got to tell people what sexual harassment means.”
The state law attempts to accomplish that goal by requiring cities and other employers to include “practical examples” in their harassment training.
McPhillips said the city already tries to educate employees on sexual harassment and discrimination policies during the orientation process and regular training. City employees are not forbidden to date or attend social events together, McPhillips explained, but oftentimes the line between fraternization and harassment can grow fuzzy.
“What we would discourage is a supervisor dating a subordinate,” she said, “because that is where you could run into a lot of challenges or issues … It can be an abuse of power, favoritism. It can create a perception that certain employees get treated better than others. It’s a slippery slope that a supervisor or manager faces.”
Several city workers said they received adequate training during their time in Gilroy, though one felt another seminar could prove useful.
“I don’t know what people consider harassment,” said the employee, who requested anonymity. “If somebody asks you out and you tell them no, I don’t think that’s harassment. But I don’t know where you draw the line.”