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Sacramento County sued for failing to act on harassment charges

Two former California Department of Agriculture employees are suing Sacramento County for failing to handle their sexual harassment complaints against their boss. He is also named in the lawsuit.

The two women say that their supervisor harassed them on multiple occasions while they were working as inspection aides. They say they complained about the harassment to managers, but their complaints were not properly investigated.

According to one of the plaintiffs, the supervisor, who is still employed by Sacramento County, repeatedly and openly propositioned her. Ironically, she says that he even made inappropriate comments to her during a sexual harassment training session. Under California law, managers and supervisors who work for organizations with fifty employees or more must undergo two hours sexual harassment training every two years.

The plaintiff, who spoke to the press, says that she put up with the harassment for five years before she reported it because she knew that if she spoke out, she would lose her job. A San Diego law professor noted that most sexual harassment victims never speak out for this reason. She says they either stay in their job and put up with it or quit.

The county, through their attorneys, has denied that there was anything non-consensual about the relationships between the man and the employees making the allegations. The county is fighting the suit. A trial date is expected to be selected next month.

While sexual harassment complaints have seen a decline over the past 15 years nationally, according to California’s Department of Fair Employment, they have recently been on the rise in the Golden State. Reported complaints rose from about 3,800 in 2011 to more than 6,000 in 2012. Part of this, the agency speculates, is because these complaints can now be reported online.

As the law professor pointed out, it is difficult to get an accurate read on how much of a problem sexual harassment in the workplace really is. Between the people who never report it, and the cases that are settled out of court by employers in order to avoid the cost and bad publicity, it is still a problem that flies largely under the radar. Cases like this, where the employer fights the charges and chooses to go to trial, are still rare.

The Modesto Bee, “Public Eye: Sacramento County fights sexual harassment claim” Richard Chang, Sep. 15, 2013

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