MYNORTHWEST NEWS

Seattle City Council creates office for reporting sexual harassment

Dec 10, 2018, 3:15 PM | Updated: 3:30 pm

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Incumbent Position 8 Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda. (Matt Pitman)

(Matt Pitman)

Seattle City Council voted unanimously Monday to create a new office for city employees to report harassment and discrimination.

RELATED: Seattle’s HR department in dire need of repair

A joint effort by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda and Mayor Jenny Durkan came after hundreds of city staff said they had been been subjected to some type of harassment or discrimination, while others described a deep mistrust in several departments, including human resources.

Councilmember Mosqueda noted the significance of the legislation in today’s political climate.

“Today marks a critical moment for the ‘Me Too’ movement,” she said in comments preceding the Council vote.

Officially, the legislation establishes the Office of the Employee Ombud (OEO). It is designed to remain “free of undue influence by elected officials,” and will execute the following functions:

  • Assisting city employees in understanding and assessing options and resources for claims of inappropriate workplace conduct
  • Analyze and recommend policy and necessary rule changes to potential departmental inefficiencies regarding workplace discrimination and harassment
  • “Facilitate discussions” to either “break down miscommunications” or address inappropriate actions

The core reasoning for the OEO can be traced directly to a city employee survey conducted in 2018, finding that 34 percent of respondents experienced some kind of harassment or discrimination. Eighty percent of those who experienced “gender-based” incidents of harassment did not seek help. Additionally, 29 percent of women of color experienced treatment due to race or ethnicity. Thirty-two percent of women of color did not believe the city’s practices at the time demonstrated support for a harassment-free workplace.

“The policies and processes that we establish must prioritize the safety of everyone who comes forward to speak up about harassment and discrimination,” said Councilmember Mosqueda in the committee meeting that moved the legislation to Monday’s full vote. 

To that end, the legislation comes with the stated goal to “ensure vulnerable and historically disadvantaged employees receive fair, objective guidance, and improve the fairness and effectiveness of the City’s workplace expectations and misconduct systems.”

While Councilmember Kshama Sawant did vote in favor of the legislation, she also noted concerns over the way the OEO is structured.

“In Seattle, my fear is that because there is a political establishment, that the (OEO) will ultimately not be independent of the mayor,” cautioned Sawant. “At the end of the day, I think it is still not going to solve the problem fundamentally — it does not solve the harassment and discrimination that faces city workers.”

The OEO’s director will be appointed by Mayor Durkan and approved by Seattle City Council. It will not affect the proposed 2019-2020 budget.

RELATED: Councilmember drafting new sexual harassment policy

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Seattle City Council creates office for reporting sexual harassment