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

Dump truck driver fled after North Austin crash that severely injured man, police say
Dump truck driver fled after North Austin crash that severely injured man, police say

A dump truck driver fled after he was involved in a crash on Interstate 35 that was reported early Monday, Austin police said. The driver, 30-year-old Elieser Samora, is charged with failure to stop and render aid after an accident involving serious bodily injury. A 28-year-old man had severe brain damage after the crash and is currently in critical...
Abbott asks disgraced congressman to foot bill for special election
Abbott asks disgraced congressman to foot bill for special election

Gov. Greg Abbott wants Blake Farenthold to foot the bill for a special election the governor has called to replace the disgraced former congressman. Abbott on Wednesday sent a letter to Farenthold, a Corpus Christi Republican who resigned from Congress in early April amid sexual harassment claims, demanding that he cover all costs for the upcoming...
Police: Former Adidas employee stole $2,600 from Round Rock store
Police: Former Adidas employee stole $2,600 from Round Rock store

A former employee of an Adidas shoe store at the Round Rock outlet mall has been accused of stealing $2,600 from the store, an arrest affidavit said. Frank Rodriguez III, of San Marcos, was charged with theft, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in jail. An Adidas regional loss prevention manager told police he found $2,600 missing from...
Man seriously injured after crashing into tree at Burleson Road, Metropolis Drive
Man seriously injured after crashing into tree at Burleson Road, Metropolis Drive

A man has potentially life-threatening injuries after he crashed into a tree at Burleson Road and Metropolis Drive on Wednesday evening, Austin-Travis County EMS officials said. Medics responded at 6:27 p.m. The man, estimated to be in his 20s, was taken to St. David’s South Austin Medical Center. 
Austin man charged with online solicitation of a minor
Austin man charged with online solicitation of a minor

An Austin man sent nude pictures of himself to a police officer posing as a 15-year-old girl online, an arrest affidavit released this week said. Charles Cantu, 25, was charged with online solicitation of a minor, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in jail. A Georgetown police officer posted an ad on Craigslist posing as a 15-year-old...
More Stories