A recent Independent article has revealed serious allegations of sexual harassment at the City of Santa Barbara.
Facts are — accused perpetrator, former finance director Bob Samario got a pass to be a classic creepy boss. He allegedly sexually harassed his deputy finance director repeatedly and commented on her appearance. She says her complaints were repeatedly ignored by the city.
Being targeted for physical appearance on the job can happen to anyone, but it mostly happens to women. It is stressful times 10. Apparently, the response at the city to this old school creepo was to laugh it off as “Bob just being Bob.” But this a professional setting and 100 percent the definition of overt sexual harassment.
In my professional career, I’ve experienced harassment several times. I filed complaints and was fortunate that human resources took action. It is devastating when a worker has no support. A young man I worked with at a government agency decades ago quit his job rather than face the humiliation of reporting a male harasser. It was emotionally devastating.
People value their careers and are not stupid. If a workplace makes a point of saying that being a creep is not okay, then people at all levels know that harassment based on race, gender, physical abilities is not okay. The company, agency, or organization has to make it clear that overt harassment is unacceptable and will have consequences. For everyone. No exceptions.
I’ve worked in a male-dominated field for several decades. In 2021, I would be shocked if any man in a position above me made constant inappropriate comments about my appearance. It’s too easy to document, and a complaint would be taken seriously. My workplace provides anti-sexual harassment training and is serious about enforcement. Then again, maybe I’m just fortunate.
People can forget their filter occasionally under stress, sometimes it can get awkward. But not making a career of being a creep is not that hard. The more diverse a workplace, the more important mutual respect becomes. No workplace is going to be 100 percent free of bias and ‘isms, but allowing overt documented harassment? That is on management.
We have come a long way since the last century. Professional workplaces provide training and have policies to avoid this type of harassment. Why is the City of Santa Barbara any different? It is, and it isn’t.
The city website promotes its diversity and promotes itself as an inclusive workplace. As a publicly funded agency, the city must comply with its anti-sexual harassment policies, but it also has an old school power structure. It’s clear that the city allows people protected within that structure to misbehave in violation of the city’s stated mission supporting diversity and inclusion.
That the city allowed the perpetrator to retire with full benefits is not surprising. That the target of harassment was essentially black-balled and not promoted to a position she is qualified for is also not surprising. After all, us tired city residents have gotten used to these types of stories from the city. But in 2021 it is unacceptable. Ignoring the facts not only gives the city bad publicity, but this type of egregious behavior will be allowed to continue as long as it’s given a pass within the city power structure.
This situation is damaging all around — for the victim, the City Manager Paul Casey, the public image of the City of Santa Barbara, and the taxpayers that fund the city.
What as human beings do we do? Inform anyone who has experienced or seen this type of abhorrent behavior in the workplace. Then call the city and its manager out on it. For ignoring it.
At a minimum, advocate for the following:
1) The city needs to promote the victim to the position she is obviously qualified for;
2) The city manager needs to make a public apology, acknowledge that the behavior was wrong and enabled for way too long;
3) The city needs to give its human resources department the authority to review complaints and override the city manager when necessary — otherwise this will happen again.
A healthy respectful workplace is not that hard, people! I want the city to live up to its stated mission. This is our city, and our taxes fund it. I want accountability from the city and not embarrassment. Our city is better than this, and letting it fly under the radar hurts all of us.