Testimony to the New York City Council on Sexual Harassment Best Practices and Policies in New York City

Good morning Chairs Rosenthal and Eugene, and members of the Committees on Women and Civil and Human Rights.  My name is Ethan Geringer-Sameth and I am the Public Policy & Program Manager at Citizens Union. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the important matter of sexual harassment best practices and policies in New York City.

Citizens Union is an independent, non-partisan civic organization of New Yorkers that promotes good government and advances democratic reform in our city and state.  As part of our mission, we work to ensure that public officials and their staff meet their responsibilities to the people and uphold the public trust. We feel strongly that guaranteeing a safe, empowering, and dignified workplace for all New Yorkers, especially women and especially women of color and especially those working in city government, is at the basis of that effort.  We are testifying today because sexual harassment is not only a labor rights issue, it is not only a public safety issue – it is a good government issue when sexual and gender-based harassment goes unaddressed in city government. It is a matter of democratic representation, broadly speaking. How many voices have been silenced due to unchecked sexual harassment and intimidation?

At this early stage in the review of the city’s sexual harassment policy, we offer three recommendations:

  1. That this review is conducted with transparency and input from city employees, agency heads, experts, community stakeholders, and elected officials;
  2. That it takes the detailed public reporting of sexual harassment complaint metrics seriously; and to that end,
  3. Reporting should include information on factors like race, age, and type of employment because it is important to document the diverse experiences of women who intersect with other axes of advantage and disadvantage.

We are at a turning point in addressing the shortcoming of existing labor rights to protect employees from sexual harassment around the country. As the need for reform in most industries has become well-articulated, elected officials must set an example of what meaningful change looks like. At a minimum, city government workplaces must have serious safeguards to prevent sexual harassment and abuses of power and the policy regulating them must be known to the public. As the first official step in such an effort, we applaud this convening.

Citizens Union notes with concern that there has never been a comprehensive review of practices and policies related to sexual harassment across city government. Outside of the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Policy – of which only a small portion is dedicated to sexual harassment – standards related to sexual and gender-based harassment, if they exist at all, are not readily known to the public and there are no assurances that they meet the needs of city employees. We cannot tell if they adequately address the common experiences of city employees, especially women. Citizens Union commends efforts to update the citywide EEO Policy on an ongoing basis, but we are not convinced that this single instrument can fulfill the need for specific, agency-appropriate policy that is also publically transparent.

There are over 130 New York City agencies and a municipal workforce of 330,000 employees. The city’s EEO Policy is a guideline for equal employment practices across the myriad functions of city government, with a greater emphasis on hiring than on-the-job behavior. According to the EEO Policy, it is up to each agency to hire an EEO Officer who must be notified of an EEO complaint but there may be broad latitude in how the Policy is enforced. Until a full review is conducted, it will be impossible to know if adequate protections are in place, how they are being enforced, and where shortcomings in the city’s overall sexual harassment prevention system are.

There seem also to be no public tracking of sexual harassment complaints, or reporting on the nature of complaints and the outcomes of investigations. There is a database of EEO-related metrics but such data disaggregated by category, including sexual harassment, is not publically available. Because there is a serious dearth of sunlight on these agency-based policies, it is unclear to what extent such information is collected at all.

In conclusion, it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure that the policies related to sexual harassment in city agencies are adequate and available for public review. Moreover, to guarantee the appropriate application of such policies there needs to be thorough reporting of important metrics including the number of sexual harassment complaints filed, the outcome, and where incidents occur. The reporting should also include other related information that will help illuminate the other factors – like race and age – that impact the experience of sexual harassment. To this end, an official commitment to transparency in this area is essential. We again commend these committees for taking up this charge and strongly urge the Mayor to proactively support this review and advance reforms that protect the safety and dignity of women, and all city employees, in the workplace.

Thank you for seeking Citizens Union’s testimony today.  I welcome any questions you may have. (Watch the video from February 28, 2018)