Could the Seattle's first woman mayor in a hundred years be the one to update the city's internal harassment reporting and investigative procedures?
Well, no guarantees. But in a letter sent to her cabinet members on Tuesday, Mayor Jenny Durkan expressed a desire to update the city's sexual harassment reporting system, which was put in place more than 20 years ago.
The biggest immediate change, per the letter, is that, effective immediately, no individual city department can agree to settle lawsuits, formal investigations, arbitration, and another higher-level city grievance process without notifying "big city" HR: the Seattle Department of Human Resources. In plainer terms, this makes sure that some of the city's more serious sexual harassment complaints are seen by central city government.
"My goal is to increase transparency and accountability immediately," Durkan wrote to her cabinet members. "While many departments are currently sharing information with SDHR, I have deep concerns that there is not a single system for investigating, resolving, tracking and broadly understanding employees’ experiences of harassment in the City."
Read the full letter below.
From: Durkan, Jenny
Sent: Tuesday, December 19, 2017 5:37 PM
Cc: Gilliss, Edie; Rolf, Kylie; Moseley, David; Ranganathan, Shefali; Noble, Ben; Fong, Michael
Subject: Our Commitment to Workforce Equity
Dear Cabinet Members,
As the year draws to a close, I want to thank you for your work for the people of Seattle. I know the changes at the City this year have been difficult for many to navigate and that the beginning of my administration will bring both challenges and great opportunities. I look forward to working with each of you in this great city to tackle these challenges and seize these opportunities.
One thing I know we must stand for is a safe and welcoming workplace. As we all know, across the country, employers including the U.S. Congress are looking at increasing accountability and transparency for workplace harassment. The City of Seattle also is evaluating its policies to ensure we’re creating a work environment in which employees are free from discrimination.
Harassment is an issue that we know has been prevalent in every kind of work situation. As a gay woman coming up in my profession, I have experienced disparate treatment many times, and I know a number of City employees have suffered discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment, in the workplace. A work environment where employees experience harassment on any basis is antithetical to our City’s commitment to our goals of workforce equity and race and social justice.
I’m proud that our City considers harassment of an individual an unfair employment practice, whether it is verbal, visual or physical harassment based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, disability or other bases protected by law. Many of our departments have done important work on training and reporting, but I know we can all do better.
To better strive for a work environment where all people, regardless of their background or identity, feel comfortable and are treated with dignity and respect, I will be working with the City and listening to our employees to update our discrimination and harassment policies.
The procedures for investigating and resolving harassment complaints were originally adopted by the Mayor and City Council in October of 1994 as part of an Executive Order and Council Resolution. Our workplaces, methods of communicating and the way we live as a city have changed dramatically. It’s time for the City to re-evaluate our current process and reporting system while developing a more robust and effective approach to preventing and addressing workplace harassment.
The City must hold itself accountable for ensuring that harassment in the workplace is addressed timely and appropriately - this is why I’m announcing a new policy change as well. While we develop better policies and systems, we must ensure more consistency and transparency now. Thus, effective immediately, no individual department may agree to settle any Step 3 or 4 grievance, lawsuit, or formal investigation, related to claims of harassment, without providing 30-day notice to the Director of SDHR.
My goal is to increase transparency and accountability immediately. While many departments are currently sharing information with SDHR, I have deep concerns that there is not a single system for investigating, resolving, tracking and broadly understanding employees’ experiences of harassment in the City.
As we head into next year, I welcome your thoughts and feedback on additional policy changes, and I look forward to working with each of you moving forward on this important workplace issue. Please contact Deputy Mayor David Moseley with any questions about this policy change.