Report: Ex-Cal State Chancellor Mishandled Misconduct Claims

The former chancellor of California State University, the nation’s largest public university system, mishandled sexual misconduct allegations while he headed the Fresno campus, according to a report released Thursday.

Joseph I. Castro failed to deal properly with complaints against Frank Lamas while Castro was Fresno State’s president because he had a “blind spot” for his friend, according to the results of a months-long investigation commissioned by the CSU system.

Lamas, the campus vice president of student affairs from mid-July 2014 until his retirement in 2020, was recruited by Castro, according to the report.

During his tenure, the campus received at least nine complaints that Lamas improperly touched women, made sexist comments and harassed or retaliated against workers, the report said. 

Most of the complaints were informal or anonymous. The report said some involved behavior that wasn’t specifically barred by the system’s policy prohibiting sexual or other harassment of employees.

No action was taken against Lamas until a formal complaint was filed in 2019, when he was barred from campus and later found to have violated a CSU harassment policy.

While Castro and others repeatedly talked to Lamas, counseling him not to engage in such conduct, the president “consistently did not take any significant action against but instead supported Lamas throughout his employment even in the face of multiple allegations, growing evidence, and ultimately, confirmed findings of Lamas’ alleged misconduct,” the report said.

From 2016 through 2019, Castro made eight recommendations of Lamas for presidential positions both inside and outside the CSU system without making reference to the misconduct complaints, the report said.

Lamas, who has denied the misconduct allegations, retired in 2020 as part of a settlement agreement granting him a $260,000 payment equivalent to a year’s salary and barring him from CSU work. The settlement, which was approved by the CSU chancellor at the time, didn’t violate system policies and there were legitimate reasons for supporting it, including the risk and cost if Lamas sued, the report said.

However, Castro acted inappropriately when he agreed to write Lamas a “very positive” letter of recommendation to help find work elsewhere, the report said.

Castro disputed the report’s findings in a statement issued Thursday and cited by the Los Angeles Times, saying he had made decisions based on the advice of CSU’s lawyer and previous chancellor.

“I have been a steadfast champion for gender equity throughout my career and will redouble my efforts in this important area going forward,” Castro said.

The 10-page report was conducted by a law firm that also investigated Lamas.

Click here to read the full article at AP News

Anonymous Letter to Assembly Lawmakers Alleges Abuse, Harassment of Sergeants-at-Arms by Chief

Letter says violations have been reported to Assembly leaders but nothing was done

The California Globe is in receipt of a letter stating it is from an Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms, recently sent to all members of the California State Assembly, as well as Assembly staffers, revealing alleged abuse and horrible work conditions in the legislature by the Assembly Chief Sergeant-at-Arms.

The complaint alleges that Assembly Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Alisa Buckley and Deputy Chief Sergeant Randy Arruda are abusive to the point of pushing Sergeants to retire early, leave for another job, or suffer demotion and schedule changes with little or no notice. 

The writer says the policy violations were reported to the Workers Conduct Unit (WCU) and Assembly Human Resources, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Chair of Rules Committee Ken Cooley, and Chief Administrative Officer Debra Gravert, but nothing changed.

“At the State Capitol, those who create the laws that the governed are required to follow, do not follow such practices themselves,” the letter writer says.

In December 2019, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced Alisa Buckley, a member of the Sacramento Police Department for 22 years, as the Assembly’s new Acting Chief Sergeant-at-Arms. The election for the new Chief Sergeant was held the first week of session in January 2020, and she was approved for the job.

With the complaint now being public, it appears the Assembly Speaker needs to initiate a thorough investigation into the allegations, which includes interviewing all staff Sergeants-at-Arms.

The California Capitol has been plagued with hostile working conditions in recent years. In 2018 the Joint Committee on Rules Subcommittee on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response announced policy changes in response to widespread accusations of sexual harassment/assault and gross sexual misconduct by elected legislators and senior staff, I reported. Yet female employees still report harassment, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported.

The Globe contacted Assembly Speaker Rendon’s press secretary Saturday for a statement but we have not heard back. We will update the article when we do.

Here is the letter:

August 26, 2022

All Assemblymembers

1315 10th St.

Sacramento, CA 95834

RE: Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms Hostile Work Environment

Dear Assemblymembers,

Over the course of the last year, the Assembly’s Sergeant-at-Arms Department has become a hostile and demoralizing place of employment.  In 2021, the department had around 50 total employees.  Since then, the department has diminished to less than half that number due to the leadership of Chief Sergeant Alisa Buckley and Deputy Chief Sergeant Randy Arruda.  Diminishing staff is due to those who have chosen to retire early, leave for another job opportunity, or were demoted.   Those who left includes five of the eight in management.  Several Assembly policies have been violated and were reported to the Workers Conduct Unit (WCU) and Assembly Human Resources. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Chair of Rules Committee Ken Cooley, and Chief Administrative Officer Debra Gravert had been informed of such matters and made the decision to protect the institution instead of protecting staff vital to the functioning of the Capitol.

Assembly policy states that training in Workplace Violence Prevention, Ethics, and Sexual Harassment be conducted each legislative term and that staff compliance is mandatory.  The Ethics training course describes retaliation and purposeful misconduct by superiors.  This has been occurring in the Sergeant’s Department for two years.

-Demoting the employees

-Encouraging staff to ostracize individual employees without cause or evidence

-Giving poor reviews or nit-picking

-Sudden changes in work schedules and/or work locations

-Poor references without cause or evidence

-Poor performance feedback without cause or evidence

Assembly staff communicated such occurrences to individual members in the hopes that help would come. Staff has been repeatedly reminded that they are at-will employees and could be let go at any time for any reason.  The constant reminding has considered is a warning to any employees that discuss department matters to members will experience consequences.  This is a violation of the ethic protocols in the Capitol.  What is occurring in the department has reached the level of being discussed in a Democratic Caucus meeting.  

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

I Reported My Harassment in the California Legislature. Then State Investigators Went After Me

In a recent interview, California Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins said it was “disappointing and hard to hear that there are (legislative staffers) who still have concerns” about the harassment reporting process in the Legislature.

“I would just encourage staff to reach out,” she said. “We want to make sure they’re being addressed.”

But I can tell you what really happens when victims “reach out” to the California Legislature after they experience harassment. And I can assure you it has little to do with making sure the concerns of victims are being met.

THE HARASSMENT

In 2017, almost 200 women signed a letter detailing pervasive harassment issues in the Capitol. In response, the Legislature created the Workplace Conduct Unit (WCU) — hailed as an “independent” investigatory body free of political interference — to probe all allegations of harassment and discrimination. The Legislature also passed a new Policy on Appropriate Workplace Conduct that created clear guidelines for what constitutes misconduct and mandated that supervisors report any allegations of harassment to the investigatory unit.

Requiring supervisors to report all allegations of misbehavior directly to the WCU may seem like an insignificant change, but it was considered an essential reform. As Assembly Member Laura Friedman, D-Glendale (Los Angeles County), explained in a 2018 interview: “In the past, you were asking HR people (who work for the Legislature under partisan leadership) to make a determination … which will always be seen as being biased.”

The goal wasn’t just to hold Harvey Weinstein-like predators accountable, but also to adjudicate smaller workplace incidents before they spiraled into something bigger — and to prevent favoritism from clouding the waters of an investigation. Legislative leaders touted this essential reform and accepted the accompanying accolades when they were lauded for providing the greatest worker protections of any state legislature in the country.

In March 2019, shortly after these policy changes were implemented, I joined the district office of Menlo Park Democratic Assembly Member Marc Berman as a field representative. I was 24 years old.

Our district office was just four full-time staffers and a rotating series of interns. From the very beginning, I was told to view our office as a group of friends, rather than co-workers, since we would be spending long days, nights and often weekends, together.

The district director of our office — my direct supervisor — made me uncomfortable almost immediately. My experience working under this district director would ultimately be the subject of WCU investigations and of a workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation complaint that I filed with the state agency charged with investigating such claims.

I noticed the way my supervisor behaved with another female subordinate employee, who has since moved to Berman’s Capitol office in Sacramento. In front of other staff, my supervisor flirted with this other female employee by, for example, paying for her lunches, eating from the same container as her as if they were on a date and sitting next to her desk all day. He’d subtly but overtly touch her hair, arm and hand. He’d asked her to apply a pain therapy pad to his bare back. In one instance, she asked him to unknot part of her necklace that dangled off the chain. I watched as he pinned her up against his desk, in between his legs, and worked on the necklace for minutes while it lay on her chest.

Some of his misconduct was directed toward me. Once, when I asked him why he treated the other staffer more favorably, he said it’s because she did not have a husband to care for her. I, on the other hand, was recently married — and I understood him to mean that he was interested in women who were willing to flirt with him. My “unavailability” meant that I was not. Beyond that, he would comment on the physical attractiveness of female colleagues — both legislators and staff — including, for example, ranking their bodies on a scale of 1 to 10.

My supervisor reduced me and the other professional women in our proximity to our sexual appeal and availability. It was clear to me through this behavior that for women to advance in the office, we’d need to at least tolerate these exploits, if not play along.

And the degree to which I could choose to play along would come to haunt me down the road.

THE STONEWALLING

After four months on the job, I called my chief of staff in the Sacramento Capitol office to file a complaint. I poured out what I had been holding in: the behavior, the discomfort, my confusion, pain and shame — as well as similar stories our interns had shared with me.

There was a palpable silence once I stopped speaking. He told me it sounded like “cliqueness” instead of harassment, and that he’d need to ask my supervisor — whom I had just reported — about my allegation. I begged him not to. He finally agreed and said he would escalate the complaint to Berman and an Assembly human resources consultant. I felt reassured, as I understood that he was obligated to report my allegation to the WCU as well: The Legislature’s new protocol, which is available on the WCU’s website, states that “supervisors,” which includes chiefs of staff, “must report any complaints of misconduct to the Workplace Conduct Unit immediately so that the complaint can be resolved.”

After I hung up with my chief of staff, I sent a follow-up text thanking him. I was genuinely grateful. I didn’t want my supervisor fired. I just wanted his misbehavior to end — and for him to be held accountable if it didn’t. The WCU was created for this very reason.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle