Bias within the anti-bias workplace: San Francisco finds issues and options

The company and office names listed above are automatically generated from the text of the article. We are improving this feature as we continue to test and develop the beta version. We appreciate your feedback, which you can submit using the feedback tab on the right side of the page.

July 14 (Reuters) – An independent report on San Francisco’s Equal Opportunity Employment Practices reveals the pervasive problems of discrimination in the workplace, even in a city considered one of the most progressive places in the country.

According to the July 9 report, black and Hispanic city workers in San Francisco are more disciplined and laid off than white and Asian workers, and these differences persist even when factors such as income levels or union membership are controlled. Black workers accounted for more than half of all disciplinary cases indicted in the city’s transportation department in 2020, though they account for 32% of that workforce, according to data from the city’s transportation authority in the new report. A little over 12% of the city’s total workforce in 2019 were black, but according to city data, they were the subject of more than 20% of corrective and disciplinary actions that year.

The results reveal a fundamentally broken internal process of combating workplace discrimination within the San Francisco city government. More importantly, however, the analysis of the city’s complaints handling processes and some of the report’s innovative recommendations are an unusual step in tackling systemic biases in public employment and mark the beginning of a blueprint for other cities to follow.

Mawuli Tugbenyoh, head of politics in the city’s human resources department, told me the officials “are that we are the first jurisdiction to do this type of review, and we certainly hope others will follow suit given the history of structural racism “. throughout the country.

The review was commissioned by Mayor London Breed after public outcry over a former human resources manager’s admission that she had forged a settlement on a discrimination case against a black city worker in September 2020, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle The manager admitted the employee Lied about the city’s financial settlement, prompting the worker to dismiss a pending lawsuit she filed. Officials said in a statement last Friday that they will review the 57 reform recommendations and publish an implementation plan “this fall”.

William Gould IV, an expert on workplace discrimination at Stanford Law School who led the review, told me he believed Breed would be receptive to the recommendations.

“It takes courage and self-confidence from the mayor and other heads of government, because nobody wants to be held accountable for existing deficiencies,” said Gould. “The proof, of course, is in the pudding, so we’ll have to see what happens in the coming weeks and months. But I think that by grabbing the chance, this mayor paved the way for California and the nation to address systemic biases in public employment.

Black workers in particular are concentrated in low-paying jobs in the San Francisco city government and, according to the analysis, have no opportunities for advancement.

In addition, the city’s internal process for handling complaints about discrimination in the workplace among its approximately 35,000 employees is fundamentally flawed.

The EEO division of the city’s human resources department currently has only 15 investigators, which is around 2,000 employees per investigator, according to the report. The ministry’s guidelines require EEO investigations to be completed within 180 days, but around 78% of the 130 racial harassment complaints that were open as of December 2020 were open for more than 180 days – including some that started in 2015 on Discrimination based on ethnicity, skin color, descent and national origin.

The city’s EEO investigators act as neutral fact finders when someone files a complaint against a colleague. Sometimes, however, they also represent the city’s best interests when workers submit their complaints to outside agencies such as the state equal opportunities commission. And they are essentially arguing against a complainant who, according to the report, appeals the EEO division’s original decision in the dispute.

All of this understandably creates trust problems for workers “who could now reasonably question whether the investigator was genuinely neutral from the start,” the report concludes. Gould told me that these types of structural conflicts of interest “are likely to exist in other government agencies as well.”

Another major problem is that cases often depend on an investigator’s determination of whether a complainant or defendant is credible, and many city workers believe these determinations “are not impartial,” the report said. Sometimes people who complain about a discriminatory suspension, for example, are found to be implausible because they have a “motive to lie”, because they want to avoid discipline – an argument the report notes can be used around a person discredit who alleges that an adverse work activity was itself discriminatory.

“Ultimately, the inefficiencies of the EEO complaints process have led many employees to feel that it is an ineffective tool for identifying discriminatory behavior.

Tugbenyoh told me that the city’s mayor has already funded seven other EEO investigators.

The report also recommends that the city follow up if necessary and take action if managers are disproportionately disciplined. And it proposes policy revisions that will keep EEO investigators from responding to EEOC complaints or defending HR decisions on appeal.

That might sound like a sensible move for any equality bureau. But if these kinds of fundamental problems exist in the San Francisco city government, it’s not difficult to assume that they exist in other US cities to some extent. These communities would do well to review their own policies for similar shortcomings.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which are committed to trust principles of integrity, independence and bias.

Hassan Canoe |

Hassan Kanu writes about access to justice, race and equality. Born in Sierra Leone and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, Kanu worked in the public interest after graduating from Duke University School of Law. He then spent five years reporting mainly on labor law. He lives in Washington, DC. Reach canoe at hassan.kanu@thomsonreuters.com

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button