Austin City Council strengthens rules against harassment at City Hall


Months after hearing women describe the harassment, discrimination or retaliation they have experienced at the hands of other city employees, the Austin City Council on Thursday approved new rules for city employees to crack down on such conduct.

“I think this is a very important step for the city,” said Council Member Kathie Tovo, who sponsored the resolution last spring that ordered staff to examine policies and recommend changes. “And I think it’s a terrific example of our community … recognizing an opportunity to really enhance the protections and policies and the practices that our city has for our city employees.”

The new rules expand and clarify existing conduct requirements for city staff, including more expansive definitions of what constitutes harassment and retaliation. The new language also requires that investigations into complaints be launched “without undue delay.”

However, the language passed by the council dropped a provision that would have allowed the city to hold employees accountability for off-duty conduct “that is related to or relevant to the (employee’s) job,” after the local chapter of the American Federation of State and Municipal Civil Employees, which represents city workers, objected.

But, after striking a deal to remove that provision, union official Carol Guthrie said the new language had the group’s whole-hearted support.

Tovo called for the changes last spring, after the American-Statesman reported in 2015 on a stereotype-riddled training session on women in government. Tovo said then she was troubled that city employees apparently felt they could share their qualms only with the media.

Those concerns have been underscored by other events at City Hall. In February, a jury ruled the city unlawfully retaliated against a female city engineer from Nicaragua after she complained of experiencing discrimination based on her national origin and gender.

And over the summer, the former director of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development was forced out after covering up her failure to reprimand a top manager for “horseplay.” The manager, who was accused of repeatedly hugging a female coworker against her wishes and attempting to sit on her lap, has denied the allegations.

The lone dissenting vote Thursday came from Council Member Don Zimmerman, who lost his reelection bid last month for the District 6 seat. He wondered aloud whether the language would make it too easy for employees to bring “false allegations.”

After being told by staff that it is a violation of city rules to bring false claims with a malicious intent, Zimmerman pressed on, wondering if the new rules wouldn’t make it too easy to bring a complaint.

“A fool shows their annoyance at once when they get insulted, but a wise person or a prudent person, you know, will overlook insults,” he said, citing the Old Testament book of Proverbs. “In some cases, the problems can be mitigated by people just saying, you know, that person is an idiot, I’m just going to ignore them.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

A few things to know about grackles, Austin’s trashiest mascot
A few things to know about grackles, Austin’s trashiest mascot

There I was, drinking my morning coffee and seeing what Austin was chattering about Thursday morning, when I searched Google for “can you eat grackles.” It wasn’t a last-ditch stab at finding breakfast. It was a question originally posed by a user on the Austin subreddit (hi, y’all), and I needed to know the answer. The...
Autumn Equinox: 5 things to know about the first day of fall
Autumn Equinox: 5 things to know about the first day of fall

Today is the first day of the fall season, as the autumnal equinox signals the beginning of astronomical fall. This year, that happens across North America on Friday afternoon. So as the weather begins to cool across the country, here are some things to know about that season when the leaves change color and the temperature begins to drop. >>...
N.C. high school clears student section during football game
N.C. high school clears student section during football game

School officials in North Carolina were forced to clear the student section during Friday night’s football game because of inappropriate behavior. >> Read more trending news Ardrey Kell Principal David Switzer sent a message to parents explaining why school administrators had to take extreme action and remove students from the game. In...
Uber stripped of London license
Uber stripped of London license

London stripped Uber on Friday of its license to operate beginning at the end of September, a move that will affect more than 40,000 drivers in one of the world’s biggest cities, Reuters reported. >> Read more trending news  Regulator Transport for London (TfL) said Uber’s conduct posed risks to public safety and it...
FORECAST: First day of fall to see high near 90, small chance of rain Friday, Sunday
FORECAST: First day of fall to see high near 90, small chance of rain Friday, Sunday

Friday forecast for Austin: Happy first day of fall! But don’t let the expected high temperature fool you, Austin’s summer-like weather remains in full swing as a huge helping of humidity from the Gulf of Mexico will keep it feeling like it is near 100 degrees outside this afternoon.  That humidity, being pumped in by the sea breeze...
More Stories