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California fights to keep nepotism investigation out of employee’s discipline hearing

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Want to know more about how to get a promotion within California state government? State employees can get e-notifications for job openings on their CalCareer accounts. State exam footage courtesy of California Department of Corrections and Rehabi
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Want to know more about how to get a promotion within California state government? State employees can get e-notifications for job openings on their CalCareer accounts. State exam footage courtesy of California Department of Corrections and Rehabi

The state is fighting to keep a nepotism audit out of an employee’s disciplinary hearing, arguing the public report is “hearsay” because it does not explicitly name a former government executive who helped her daughter get a job.

The state revealed its stance on the audit of former Depart of Industrial Relations Director Christine Baker in an email last week with union attorneys at the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association.

The document does not identify Baker by name, but Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration last week confirmed it centered on Baker’s former department when she was its director.

The union wants to use the document as evidence in its defense of Socorro Tongco, a former Department of Industrial Relations employee who was dismissed from her job last year and believes she was punished in part because she participated in the nepotism audit by sharing information with investigators.

Because the nepotism audit does not actually name Baker, a deputy attorney general wrote in an email to the union the report “is hearsay and lacks any foundation to demonstrate its relevance to this proceeding.”

California State Auditor Elaine Howle published the nepotism report last week after keeping it confidential for nearly a year. She published it, she said, because she believed the department had not taken sufficient action to address her recommendations.

Howle did not name Baker or her daughter in the report because doing so could inadvertently disclose the identities of whistleblowers, a spokeswoman for Howle’s office said.

The audit charges that a California government department director inappropriately helped her daughter get a job and promotions. Howle highlighted that employees at the department feared professional retaliation, and that the director seemed determined to identify whistleblowers.

After Howle published the report, Labor Secretary Julie Su released a statement that confirmed the audit centered on the Department of Industrial Relations. Su’s statement said the audit “exposed a systemic breakdown.”

Tongco is contesting her dismissal with a civil lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court. She also is appealing her termination at the State Personnel Board. Her union wanted to include the audit for the State Personnel Board’s consideration.

The state Labor and Workforce Development Agency, which oversees Baker’s former department, declined to comment on the department’s effort to keep the audit out of Tongco’s appeal. The Department of Justice, which oversees deputy attorneys general, also declined to comment.

The Department of Industrial Relations dismissed Tongco from her job in November, charging that she had a romantic relationship with a department attorney that she hid from supervisors, conducted personal business on state time and misled her boss about her requests to work from home on a couple of occasions.

Tongco counters that she was not required to disclose her relationship, and in State Personnel Board records she denied the state’s other allegations.

The state’s investigation into her workplace conduct acknowledges that auditors were investigating the Department of Industrial Relations and that Baker had ordered a review of employee emails for it.

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