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Finding Issued in Probe of Rockville City Workers' Claims of Discrimination and Harassment

Report includes recommendations to improve communication and human resources practices.

 

An independent investigation into former City of Rockville employees’ claims of harassment and discrimination by supervisors found “no unlawful conduct,” the city said in a news release late Wednesday

The in May to conduct the internal review of the city’s personnel policies and procedures after The Sentinel newspaper published a series of articles detailing complaints by former employees. A former city building inspector told The Sentinel that the city had become “a toxic environment” in which to work.

Former city employees said managers were required to change performance evaluations, supervisors made racist comments and, in one case, an employee’s medical history was openly discussed, The Sentinel reported.

The City Council received a briefing on the firm’s findings and recommendations in a closed session on Tuesday evening at City Hall. 

"Saul Ewing identified no unlawful conduct," the city’s release said. "Based on the internal review, Saul Ewing has recommended improvements to communication between management and staff and to the City's human resources processes. The firm found that no one person, department or policy was at the root of the complaints."

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The firm's recommendations included:

  • An affirmation from human resources staff and all city supervisors that all personnel information remains confidential.
  • The purchase of human resources information systems software to track and monitor employee complaints, grievances and evaluations.
  • Clarification and refinement of employee performance evaluation policies and procedures, including implementing an electronic performance evaluation system.
  • An update of the city's Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual.
  • Improved training on personnel policies and procedures to ensure consistent interpretation and application.

Rockville is unlikely to release additional information about the investigation to the public. In announcing the probe’s conclusion, city officials defended its confidentiality.

“The final report is confidential as it contains personnel information which cannot be made public,” the release said.

Saul Ewing’s initial contract for the investigation ran through Aug. 15 and was for up to $90,000. On Aug. 6, the council approved an additional $100,000 for the investigation and extended Saul Ewing’s contract through Oct. 31, The Sentinel reported. Saul Ewing later requested an extension on the completion date, The Sentinel reported.

The city worked with Saul Ewing to solicit input from city employees, mailing information about the probe to employees’ homes. The city also established a confidential telephone hotline for scheduling confidential in-person interviews with investigators “at confidential locations in and around Rockville,” the release said.

Interviewees included employees from seven city departments across all levels of city government, the release said.

"I am very grateful to those individuals who came forward to share their concerns with the investigators,” Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said in the release. “It is because of their trust in our process that we can now move forward under our new city manager with a list of recommendations and changes that will return our city to the superior place to work we know it should be."

Barbara Matthews, a former Takoma Park city manager who took over as Rockville’s city manager on Oct. 1, welcomed the recommendations.

"The City of Rockville is a community service organization, and our employees are our most valuable asset,” Matthews said in the release. “The findings outlined in the Saul Ewing report provide the city with the opportunity to strengthen its work environment, in order to better support the members of our workforce as well as the community we serve."

Matthews said the report "comes at an opportune time as I begin the recruitment process for a new Director of Human Resources. The report recommendations will be helpful in identifying the priority issues that the new Director of Human Resources will need to address in order to implement the necessary organizational changes."

Carlos Vargas resigned as the city’s human resources director, effective June 1. Marcuccio and the City Council were made aware of Vargas’ resignation in an email on June 2, the day after Vargas’ final day on the job.

At the time, Marcuccio said Vargas had “a lot of history” and could be able provide details about how city employees were treated. It is unclear whether investigators interviewed Vargas.

Read more Rockville Patch coverage of the investigation:

  • Sentinel: Outside Investigators to Probe City Employees’ Claims
  • Saul Ewing to Probe Former City Employees’ Claims
  • Mayor: Former HR Director 'Has a Lot of History'
  • Contract Offers Glimpse Into Probe of Former City Employees’ Claims
C.Z. Guy November 29, 2012 at 02:58 AM
What an absolute waste of taxpayer money. This should serve as a starting point for the dissolution of the City government. Society today is being smothered by layer upon layer of bureaucracy, duplication of mostly low quality services, overwhelming tax burdens and the regulatory jackboot on the necks of all. All of this done by those who don't care how they spend other peoples' hard-earned money.
John November 29, 2012 at 03:00 PM
The City of Rockville's "supervisors made racist comments and, in one case, an employee’s medical history was openly discussed," yet no laws were broken. Employees are protected by the HIPPA laws of 1996, where no employer is allowed to divulge an employee's medical history. To me, the City of Rockville broke a federal law. Also, under the federal Equal Opportunity Employment laws "It is unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s race or color. Harassment can include, for example, racial slurs,,,:" And we are hearing that this fact-finding firm, RETAINED BY THE CITY OF ROCKVILLE, did not find any laws were broken. This sounds like a cover-up, to me.
Sean R. Sedam November 29, 2012 at 11:32 PM
@C.Z. Guy: There was a technical glitch that prevented this from posting sooner. Our apologies. Comments on this article should now post upon submission. Thanks for reading and weighing in.
Junka November 30, 2012 at 04:45 AM
Alright, John, time to take a moment and calm down. We're talking about the Rockvile City government here, not watergate. Don't go shouting cover up when you have no idea what you're saying. The fact is that people claimed city officials did some things, and an investigation says they actually did not. Beyond this lets take a look at the pricetag. That is $100,000 of taxpayer money to find out that an unsubstantiated claim was indeed false. We need to move to get rid of this government and let ourselves back under county control. If it weren't for Rockville being such a disorganized money drain and joke of a governments organization, this issue never would have occurred because the accuser would never have worked there.
James Trice November 30, 2012 at 04:25 PM
The recommendations of Saul Ewing LLC appear to substantiate the allegations, with the disclaimer that "no unlawful conduct" occurred. Obviously there were problems with confidentiality, evaluations, and personnel conduct, or steps would not be proposed to address them. We often employ euphemisms like "communication" issues to gloss over significant dysfunction within organization. The resignation of the HR director effectively closed the books on this controversy before the investigation was completed. By the way, settling one workplace discrimination or intimidation lawsuit can cost a lot more than the 100 grand spent on the law firm.

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