Supervisors Approve Updates to County Harassment Policy

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The Orange County Board of Supervisors updated the county’s employee harassment policy in the wake of the Carlos Bustamante sex crimes case and just days after officials exonerated Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly of anonymous sexual harassment allegations.

The new policy seeks to address a central criticism of the county work environment — that employees were afraid they’d be punished for trying to report Bustamante’s alleged crimes.

A new section on retaliation states that “all allegations will be investigated promptly” and complaints “kept as confidential as possible.”

If an allegation is found to be true, the county will take prompt action, including possibly firing the offender, the policy states.

Additionally, the new policy tackles a recent criticism that managers could be subject to false allegations. “The filing of a false claim is considered unlawful and may result in severe discipline up to and including discharge,” according to the policy.

Last summer, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged Bustamante, a former top county executive, with 12 felony sex crimes against at least seven female employees. The Bustamante case brought to light many deficiencies in the county’s system for investigating misconduct of its officials.

In particular, the scandal raised questions about the county’s executive culture and how it happened that numerous warning signs about Bustamante’s alleged crimes went unchecked.

“The apparent failures in judgment in this case are staggering and massively disappointing,” John Moorlach, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, wrote in a July email update after Bustamante was charged.

And late last week, an investigation by an independent law firm cleared Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly of allegations that he sexually harassed and showed systematic favoritism to female employees in his office. In his statement following the report, Daly took issue with the county’s system for investigating anonymous complaints.

A short staff report on the update does not detail proposed changes but does state they “reinforce the consequences for violations of this policy or the malicious filing of an unfounded complaint.”

The new policy also states that “the better qualified applicant or employee shall be selected for a position, promotion assignment, training or other employment action,” except when a contract requires otherwise.

The changes were passed unanimously without discussion. Supervisor Janet Nguyen was absent.

— NICK GERDA

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