162 complaints of discrimination, retaliation between city employees

Members of the Austin city council listen to city manager Marc Ott during a news conference at City Hall, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the Austin city council listen to city manager Marc Ott during a news conference at City Hall, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A 2015 city training video that included “demeaning generalizations” of female leaders, along with more than 160 employment complaints of harassment, retaliation and discrimination within the city, have prompted Austin City Council to seek changes to policy and have led to further investigation.

City Council Member Kathie Tovo’s resolution, which could be approved Thursday, says the city’s Human Resources Department has investigated 72 alleged cases of discrimination, harassment and retaliation (16 substantiated), during a five-year period ending in 2015. City staff also lodged 162 employment complaints against the city in the same time period.

As a result of the complaints and investigations, Tovo and others council members are pushing for changes in city policy that could strengthen protections for workers that have been discriminated, harassed or retaliated against.

“We’ve had a commission look at it,” Tovo said, referencing the city staff complaints and allegations. “We’ve had a fair number of community discussions in various places, mostly informal, about various issues related to the city of Austin and its workplace culture, and I believe we are ready to move forward.”

Tovo said the resolution would direct the city manager to create an anonymous complaint mechanism and update definitions for discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

162 employment complaints over 5 years

  • 37 complaints involved gender discrimination
  • 84 complaints involved some type of retaliation in addition to discrimination based on protected status
  • 39 complaints involved harassment including gender-biased harassment

Source: Austin City Council resolution

If the resolution passes, the city auditor would also be directed to hire an external auditor to look at the previous five years of city investigations into discrimination, harassment and retaliation, Tovo said.

Tovo said she has heard concerns that department staff investigate claims brought within their own department, which may not be best practices. The resolution could provide more information about those types of situations and help council determine if changes need to be made.

By May 1, the resolution directs the city manager to conduct a comprehensive review of all city anti-discrimination policies and protocols and come up with some third-party appeals process for employees who have exhausted all remedies through the Human Resources Department, she said.

“I’m very hopeful that our city manager will come back with a cost-effective means for a third-party appeals process that we could implement rather quickly,” Tovo said.

The resolution would add an additional duty to the Municipal Civil Service Commission to hear appeals related to the complaints. The commission already makes decisions on cases of employee discipline, according to the resolution.

A city of Austin spokesperson said the city declined to comment on the resolution before council discusses it.

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