The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday in support of a state audit of sexual harassment allegations leveled at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Supervisor Janice Hahn authored a motion recommending an audit of the water district’s treatment of women and LGBTQ workers.
“Last month, the L.A. Times wrote a piece about the harassment, the bullying and the discrimination that women and LGBTQ people have been experiencing at the Metropolitan Water District,” Hahn said. “Their accounts are incredibly disturbing and paint a picture of a workplace culture that tolerates and even enables sexual harassment.”
The MWD board has initiated a review of the claims by an outside firm, but Hahn said a fuller inquiry is needed.
“The MWD must be a place where workers, particularly women and LGBTQA+ people, are treated with dignity and respect,” Hahn said in a joint statement with Supervisor Hilda Solis released over the weekend. “A state audit will provide the comprehensive review of the MWD’s workplace culture and ensure enablers are held accountable for sweeping abuse under the rug.”
Unions including the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Local 1902 — which represents water workers — the California Labor Federation and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor have also pressed for an audit.
Women in the apprentice program told the Times that district officials dismissed their complaints and failed to discipline those responsible for harassment. The apprentice program was designed to create opportunities for women in what had long been a male-dominated workplace.
MWD Chairwoman Gloria Gray has repeatedly underscored the water board’s commitment to making sure that employees are heard.
“Under my leadership, Metropolitan’s board has been unequivocal that we will not tolerate sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation and other forms of misconduct towards or among our employees,” Gray said in a statement posted Monday to a webpage dedicated to the issue. “If it is found that our practices and policies have fallen short of this goal, we are prepared to act swiftly and decisively.”
Gray said MWD responded to allegations in November by hiring the Shaw Law Group, a women-owned enterprise with experience in equal employment opportunity issues, to conduct a review. The firm has conducted 50 hours of interviews to date and conducted an assessment survey to which nearly 1,400 of the firm’s roughly 1,850 employees responded. More interviews and document reviews are underway.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez has warned that the city may reconsider its relationship with the district if the charges aren’t fully addressed by the agency.
The city’s ability to do so may be limited, as the district provides one-third to one-half of its total water supply, according to various estimates.
The MWD of Southern California imports and provides water to nearly 19 million people in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties.
The Board of Supervisors agreed to send a letter to the chair and vice chair of the Assembly’s audit committee to request the audit.
The water district board has pledged its full cooperation with a state audit, if deemed necessary.