Independent Investigation Confirms Harassment Claim Against Sheriff Jewell Williams

(From left to right: Bill Keller, Darrell Clarke, Anthony Williams, and Jewell Williams)

In the latest turn of the Sheriff Jewell Williams sexual harassment scandal, Holly Otterbein and Anna Orso report that for the first time an independent investigation has substantiated the claims of one of the four women accusing Williams of workplace harassment.

"The internal complaint against the sheriff was filed with the city in the summer of 2017 by Marlaina Williams, who in April also sued the city in federal court, claiming the sheriff subjected her to four years of sexual harassment. In January, a representative of the Mayor’s Office of Labor Relations informed Marlaina Williams in a letter that her allegations of a hostile work environment were substantiated following a “thorough investigation” involving interviews with the sheriff and other witnesses.

The letter, which was included in the April suit, appears to represent the first time an independent investigation confirmed Marlaina Williams’ allegations of sexual misconduct against the sheriff. Williams, who is not related to Jewell Williams, is one of at least three women who have accused him of sexual harassment or misconduct.

Mayor Kenney, after signing an executive order Thursday instituting a new sexual harassment policy for executive branch employees, renewed his earlier call for the sheriff to resign. A spokesperson for City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said she also was calling on Williams to step down. Kenney said there was little city officials could do, adding, “We cannot force out any elected officials.”

But, he said, “we have a major job interview and decision come May of 2019 on what will happen with the sheriff,” referring to the  Democratic primary. The sheriff’s term ends in January 2020.

It's great to hear Mayor Kenney and Controller Rebecca Rhynhart stepping up their calls on Williams to resign, and for Kenney to signal his potential support for a primary challenger to Williams. To help amplify those calls for resignation, we're re-upping our petition calling on Williams to resign. Sign and share it to help turn up the heat on him! 

In the meantime, the best thing that Mayor Kenney could do is begin to address the glaring problems with the City's harassment reporting policy that his executive order still doesn't resolve. The way the process works now—and the way it will still mostly work post-executive order—there are still too many instances where someone wishing to report harassment by a supervisor might be discouraged due to a poorly designed system that includes the supervisor in the process.

Ryan Briggs at City & State summarizes the results of a pretty damning audit of the City's harassment reporting process released by Controller Rebecca Rhynhart's office this week. In response, Mayor Kenney's office issued an executive order around the same time announcing some changes to the way reporting will work, but Rhynhart says it doesn't go far enough.

"The audit recommends expanding the Office of Labor Relations into a well-staffed agency that can independently receive and investigate all sexual misconduct claims from city departments. While departmental cultures vary, the controller says certain HR departments cannot be trusted to fairly handle such cases, citing the Philadelphia Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division’s checkered history handling complaints made by female officers against their male colleagues.

“Our recommendation is that Internal Affairs shouldn’t be doing this [type of investigation] anymore,” Rhynhart said. “There’s too much conflict of interest having this being done within the department.” 

However, the Kenney administration says it currently has no plans to expand the Office of Labor Relations, officials said."

This is a huge problem for City Council, since Human Resources is a function of the Council President's office, and the HR personnel work directly for the Council President. There are any number of scenarios one can imagine in which someone reporting sexual harassment by a Council member or a staffer wouldn't want that process to run through the Council President's office. But under Mayor Kenney's executive order, they still would. 

It's admirable that the Mayor is taking a stand in calling for the Sheriff to resign, but he'd have a lot more credibility in doing so if he fully committed to cleaning his own house first. 

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  • Len Bullard
    commented 2018-07-20 19:38:42 -0400
    what harassment are they defining especially with the metoo witch hunt going on. nowadays anything a woman claims is considered harassment