D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser in December ordered 30,000 city employees to undergo training to prevent sexual harassment, but her administration could not say how many misconduct allegations had been made against government employees and how much taxpayers had paid in related settlements.
Since then, 94 percent of city workers have completed the training, and the mayor’s office and the D.C. Council have been able to offer a partial accounting of the costs of sexual harassment in the past two years.
The Bowser administration says the city has spent $295,000 since 2015 to resolve three lawsuits — two against the D.C. police force and one involving female Department of Corrections employees alleging that male co-workers exposed themselves, offered promotions for sex and mistreated women who complained about harassment.
The list did not include one of the most high-profile sexual harassment cases against the city, a 27-year complaint that the city settled last year for $90,000. It also did not include several cases disclosed by city agencies to the D.C. Council, including a $350,000 settlement in October involving the D.C. police department.
Aides to Bowser (D) acknowledge they do not have a full grasp of the sexual harassment problem.
“We operate under a decentralized system where agencies receive and process these types of actions, among others,” Bowser spokeswoman LaToya Foster said Wednesday. “As a result, we have to manually collect the data.”
Going forward, the city is setting up a system to track new sexual harassment complaints and settlements.
Seven of the D.C. Council’s 11 committees ask agencies under their purview to list sexual harassment complaints and settlements as part of annual oversight. A review of those documents by The Washington Post identified at least 28 sexual harassment complaints made in the past two years reported by agencies, which deemed at least four of them to be unfounded.
Comprehensive data is crucial to curbing misconduct, experts on sexual harassment say.
“Unless you know the scope of the problem, it’s very difficult to know whether your approach to sexual harassment prevention and correction is working,” said Avi Kumin, a Washington lawyer who has represented plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases against the District.
D.C. officials are hoping sexual harassment will decline since the workforce underwent training dealing with inappropriate conduct. At a cost of $71,800 to the city, the vast majority of the District’s 1,500 supervisors went through in-person training, while rank-and-file workers completed an online course.
Since December, 28,652 out of 30,411 employees under the mayor’s authority have received training, according to the city officials.
Most of the stragglers had a valid reason for not completing the training, such as going on medical leave or quitting their jobs.
But 539 workers face discipline if they do not finish the sexual harassment training by the end of this week, Foster said.
“We will continue to be known as a government and a place of employment that is fair to all people, where all people can excel and be rewarded for their talents and skills and that is free of sexual harassment,” Bowser said in an interview this month.
Kumin said the city should be paying close attention to which agencies attract the most harassment complaints and which supervisors are repeatedly accused of turning a blind eye.
“Maybe the online, one-size-fit-all training is not going to do the trick,” Kumin said.
Agencies provided a varying level of details about sexual harassment complaints to lawmakers.
D.C. Public Schools said it has received eight sexual harassment complaints in the past two years. The school system said it investigated the complaints and took “appropriate action,” with no elaboration.
D.C. police reported settling two sexual harassment cases last year for $525,000 and receiving five complaints. One allegation is still under internal investigation, and the department deemed another to be unfounded. In other cases, two people accused of harassment left the department before they could be punished and it was unclear whether the accused in another case faced disciplinary action.
The D.C. Public Library system disclosed a pending lawsuit and a sexual harassment complaint from December still under investigation. A library employee also complained in August that a co-worker showed a nude photo she shared with him to others. He denied doing so, and the complaint ended with management discussing appropriate work behavior with both workers.