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Discrimination, retaliation cases climbing

Wednesday, November 2, 2016 by Jo Clifton

During the past three years, the number of allegations related to harassment, discrimination and retaliation received by the city auditor’s investigative unit has more than doubled, according to data released by the Office of the City Auditor this week. However, because investigating those types of allegations is not part of the office’s defined role in the city, when it receives such complaints, it must pass them on to someone else to make a decision.

City Auditor Corrie Stokes sent that information to members of the City Council Audit and Finance Committee in response to questions posed by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo at last week’s committee meeting.

During Fiscal Year 2013-2014, the unit received 208 allegations of various kinds. By FY 2015-16, that number had risen to 453 allegations. However, the auditors determined that nearly 62 percent of the allegations they received in 2016 were outside their jurisdiction.

The number of substantiated complaints of the type the auditor’s office investigates rose from 6 to 16 between FY 2013-14 and FY 2015-16 according to Stokes.

Many of the complaints the auditors cannot look into deal with harassment, discrimination and retaliation. Allegations about such conduct more than doubled between FY 2013-1414 and FY 2015-16. According to Stokes’ calculations, the department documented 17 reports of harassment, discrimination and retaliation in 2014, 26 such reports in 2015 and 39 such reports in the year that ended on Sept. 30.

Nathan Wiebe, chief of the auditor’s investigative unit, told the Austin Monitor, “If there’s enough information to act on, we send it to corporate human resources and generally copy the department director.” However, he noted that his department wouldn’t copy the director if the director is alleged to be involved in inappropriate behavior.

In her memo, Stokes urged Council not to make too much from the increase in allegations, noting that the department has made several changes in its investigative processes that could be affecting the case trends. “While we do not have comparable earlier data,” she said, “I believe we would be better able to speak to trends if we could review more than three years. We will continue to review these trends going forward.”

Tovo, however, said that the increase in complaints about harassment and retaliation was significant. “That’s one of the reasons I asked the question, … because there’s been more conversation about it citywide and among staff,” she said. “I wondered, because of having a very public discussion about those issues and the process, whether that would have driven more complaints to the auditor’s office – and clearly more complaints have come in to the auditor’s office. That’s not causation, but it’s definitely correlated,” she concluded.

Tovo sponsored a resolution earlier this year to look into new ways to deal with such complaints, including an external audit. Auditors expect that audit, which is currently underway, to be completed in December.

The report “makes me really eager to see the results of that external audit,” Tovo said.

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Photo by Camilo Rueda López made available through a Creative Commons license.

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