Department Director’s “Gross Misconduct” Was Allowed for Years, State Auditor Says

An unidentified former state employee who directed an unidentified state department engaged in “gross misconduct” by orchestrating personnel decisions that benefited her daughter – and threatening retaliation against whistleblowers – without facing disciplinary action, the state auditor reported March 26.

“The director exhibited this same disregard when she preselected another employee for several positions during the course of only 13 months,” the auditor wrote. “The merit-based employment principles that the director sidestepped time and again exist to promote fair selection practices from among the best qualified job candidates available and are in place specifically to safeguard against such forms of nepotism and favoritism.”

“The timeline of events described in the audit coincides with publicly available information describing the retirement last year of former Department of Industrial Relations Director Christine Baker,” The Sacramento Bee reported. In January, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Baker to a position on the state’s Fraud Assessment Commission.

The auditor wrote:

“The director’s established pattern of repeatedly violating civil service employment rules, in its totality, constitutes gross misconduct. Our investigation revealed numerous circumstances from 2011 through 2018 in which the director deliberately and willfully disregarded the standards of behavior that a department can rightfully expect from its managers and executives. In doing so, she demonstrated gross indifference toward the procedures and protocols that underpin fairness and transparency, and she did not fulfill her obligation to ensure that the most qualified applicants hold the jobs that serve California’s taxpayers. …

“The director’s daughter also acted in bad faith during the application process for several positions and in dishonestly reporting her time and duties performed. For example, when the director’s daughter began working from home full time, she falsely claimed to have performed duties that records clearly show she did not do. Similarly, when she submitted her application for a promotion, she falsely claimed to have gained the necessary experience to meet the minimum qualifications. …

“Evidence collected in this investigation demonstrates that many staff members in her department expressed concern about the propriety of these personnel actions, but they carried out the director’s wishes to avoid retaliation. Once our investigation began, the director continued to disregard procedure and law when she divulged confidential information. Specifically, during an interview we conducted of her, we informed her several times that state law requires her to keep confidential all information she obtained from us. Nevertheless, when we interviewed other members of her staff, including the department’s chief information officer (CIO) – who is also the director’s brother – they informed us that the director had warned them that we were conducting interviews and that we would request information from them regarding the whistleblower’s allegations and her daughter’s work in the department.”

The auditor noted that the wrongdoing was reported privately in May 2018 to the agency that oversees the department.

“We expected that the agency would take swift and appropriate disciplinary action against the director and associated subjects, protect those who cooperated with the investigation, and implement our recommendations to prevent future improper activities,” the auditor wrote. “Despite the agency providing its mandated monthly updates to us, we do not yet see evidence that the agency has acted with appropriate rigor to remediate the effects of the director’s behavior; in fact, since we informed the oversight agency of our findings, it has not fully implemented any of the recommendations we made in the report.”

Some of the problems have been resolved because the director recently retired and her daughter resigned from state service, the auditor said. The retirements also reduced the possibility of retaliation against whistleblowers, allowing the report to now be made public.

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