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Hughson city employees cry ‘hostile work environment’

POSTED April 2, 2010 11:21 p.m.
Three Hughson City Council members and Hughson city employees are attempting to expose the hostile work environment they say exists within the walls of City Hall, but the Civil Grand Jury, an independent investigator and a workers’ compensation company say the claims are unfounded.   
The incidents of hostile work environment, claimed by employees, include name calling, sexual harassment and a lack of communication with city management and city employees.  
On March 23, an investigation done by an independent investigator was concluded after complaints and concerns were raised by several City of Hughson employees.
“All of the allegations raised were found to be unfounded, without merit, not based on a protected classification or not true,” reads a letter from Hughson City Attorney John Stovall to City Manager Joe Donabed. Letters with the investigations findings were sent to all personnel involved in the complaints.
“If it can’t be substantiated, why are so many people complaining?” Hughson City Council member Thom Crowder asked.
The Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury also found “that administrative staff did not commit any acts of ‘willful misconduct’ before or at the time of the accusations,” in their findings that were released on Dec. 22, 2009.
Instead, the Civil Grand Jury found council members Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley in violation of the Brown Act, the Fair Political Practices Code regulations and the Hughson Municipal Code.  
“I am desperate to try to get information to expose run-away government,” Crowder said at the Jan. 25 council meeting. “I am trying to bring this stuff to light and instead it back-fired.”
The “stuff” Crowder has been trying to expose is the claims of city employees of a hostile work environment, Crowder said.
In the past year, six employees from the City of Hughson have filed hostile work environment complaints, said Debbie Paul, director of Finance for the City of Hughson.
“I want to assure the people of Hughson that the whole truth has not been told,” Manley said at the Jan. 25 council meeting. “I feel if the citizens knew the truth, there would be much more support for the City Council. The only thing I am responsible for is trying to keep these issues from being swept under the carpet, and trying to disclose the truth.”
Some of the alleged hostile work environment incidents that have been documented are in the Workers Compensation claim that Paul filed on Aug. 21, 2009. Her reason for filing a claim — stress and acute anxiety caused from a hostile work environment. Her claim was denied by Bickman Risk Services and Consulting, along with other workers’ compensation claims filed by city employees for stress-related concerns.  
“There have been doctors telling the ladies (city employees) that if they go to work they will die,” Crowder said. “There have been continuous complaints from city employees who are in tears.”
After the Civil Grand Jury findings, the denied workers’ compensation claims, and the outside independent investigator, Paul said “it’s interesting they came up with nothing.”
According to Crowder, he has been trying to expose the hostile work environment city employees have been forced to endure.
“That’s why (Crowder, Humphreys and Manley) are in trouble,” Paul said. “They are trying to help us.”  
Crowder said he doesn’t plan on giving up the fight, even if he is recalled. If he is recalled, he plans to run for Mayor.
“I’m not giving up,” he said. “There is no reason to.”
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail mmartens@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.
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