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California state hospitals exec in legal trouble

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Chief Deputy Director of State Hospitals Kathy Gaither, is being investigated for sexual harassment. Gaither has been on paid administrative leave from her job since July 15.

Gaither's was first brought in two years ago to reform the state mental health system following concerns about the level of treatment and a number of violent assaults by patients on hospital staff. A psychiatric technician at Napa State Hospital was fatally strangled by a patient.

Gaither was made interim chief deputy director of the hospitals department in 2011, and last year was appointed permanently to the position by Gov. Jerry Brown. Her appointment was confirmed by the California State Senate. It was apparently just shortly after she took the position that the complaints began.

According to the LA Times' sources, two subordinates lodged complaints of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination against Gaither. In addition to these complaints, key members of the management team complained about her management style, which they considered rude and disrespectful. Over a dozen members of the management team have resigned since she took the position.

During her tenure, Gaither, who worked in California's Department of Finance for almost twenty years, took numerous steps to help with the state's budget crisis. She cut positions, reduced the number of clinical staff-per-patient levels, and ended treatment changes that were considered too expensive and/or ineffective.

Neither Gaither nor the department's acting director Cliff Allenby, have stated the specific reason for her paid administrative leave. She received a $300-plus monthly pay increase several weeks after her leave began.

This case shows that no matter how high up or valuable an official is, if he or she engages in behavior that is inappropriate in the workplace, employees can take steps to report them. At least one complaint was escalated to California's Health and Human Services Agency. Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited by both state and federal law. However, as we have seen in recent high-profile cases like that of the former San Diego mayor, that does not stop people in positions of power, if the accusations are true, of engaging in this behavior.

The Los Angeles Times, "Harassment allegations against California hospital official probed" Lee Romney, Aug. 22, 2013

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