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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Rockville politician calls for investigation

Former council candidate recommends city investigate handling of personnel files following accusations from former clerk

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Published on: Thursday, November 24, 2011

By Christa Puccio

A Rockville politician is calling for an investigation into claims a former employee suffered discriminatory acts while employed as a city clerk – this following an exclusive story in The Sentinel last week detailing those accusations.

“I think it’s unfortunate that this affair ended up the way it did,” said Joe Jordan, civic activist and chairman of the RedGate Advisory Committee. He dropped out of running for Rockville City Council this past September.  “I worked with Glenda (Evans) and she was always respectful, responsive and conscious.  I think the City of Rockville owes the citizens of Rockville a full investigation and that investigation needs to be made public.  Those were serious allegations and it should be taken seriously.  I don’t know if they should wait until the city manager retires or go to an outside organization.”

The problem surfaced last week when former Rockville city clerk, Glenda Evans, accused the city of discriminating against her as a black female employee and without her knowledge stuffed her personnel file with spurious accusations. “The deputy clerk started a rumor that I didn’t like white people,” Evans told The Sentinel. “That really started it. Can you imagine that in a city like Rockville?”

Human resource management experts, former Rockville city officials and residents of Rockville say there needs to be changes in how the city and county handles confidential personnel files in the wake of the accusations.

“The City needs to recognize that many people perceive problems in the human relations department and that something needs to be done,” said Anne Robbins, a former Rockville City Councilmember.  “Perhaps the new mayor and council can investigate and give some oversight to personnel problems with the city attorney.  Employees and citizens need to have confidence that personnel files are being handled in a proper manner.”

This is not the first instance of alleged misuse of employee personnel files within the government in Montgomery County.  “I was a victim of secret files with the Montgomery County government several years ago when I was employed and I won it,” said Audrey Carpenter, a former public health nurse for the Montgomery County Health Department.  “It all boiled down to the personnel director wanted me to change a vision report on a police applicant and I wouldn’t change it because I was correct.  I didn’t want to put a report down for a visual problem, put him on the force and then have a real problem come up.  So then they started putting nasty notes in my folder without my knowledge.  You’re supposed to get access to your file and they’re not supposed to put anything in your file without your knowledge.  I hope that they have a hearing for Glenda’s situation and it should be an open hearing with all of the files.  If they refuse a hearing then keep the press informed for news media.”

Dr. Barbara Lee is a professor of Human Resource Management at Rutgers University.  Lee said that there’s no specific process that human resources departments must follow in regards to dealing with employee personnel files.  “I would say that most organizations would say anything that’s relative to an employee’s performance, good and bad, would normally be put in an employee’s personnel file,” said Lee.  “I’ve never heard of an organization that has specific guidelines of what has to go into a personnel file.  They put in materials that they feel is relevant.”

“When I first heard about it, I was offended as an African American woman – I am doubly offended,” said Wilma Bell, who originally wrote about Evans’ resignation on Facebook.  “I feel like I was shocked when I first heard it and sort of used Facebook to express myself.  I just think the whole thing is unfortunate and you know, it just makes the city look so bad.  I think it’s going to make the city look closely at its policies and I think something needs to happen.  The city of Rockville has some work to do.”

Lee said that with Evans’ case, the issue is whether Human Resources Director Carlos Vargas investigated all allegations regarding Evans and a deputy clerk who Evans said accused her of “hating white people.”  “Well I think the issue is, if there’s a complaint about an employee, was it investigated,” said Lee.  “Was there a determination if it was true or not?  If someone files a complaint, like an email, someone should have looked into them.  If the criticisms were not true, then the document should have been removed from the personnel file.”

Lee said that Evans should have been notified by the HR department if anything was put in her personnel file.  “Most of the time, if there’s a complaint against the employee, the employee would be notified, particularly in a public agency like she was in because of Due Process Rights – 14th Amendment Constitutional Protection,” said Lee.

In taking into account what should go into a personnel file, Lee said that it depends on who it’s from.  “In this case it was a member of the county government who sent a critical email and they’re in charge, so a complaint by anyone of that stature should be taken seriously by an HR person,” said Lee.  “But again it should be looked into. If it’s not true, and in this case apparently it wasn’t her responsibility, it should be removed.”

In receiving a complaint especially regarding discrimination, Lee said that most organizations have a process of how to handle the situation.  “Most organizations would have a process,” said Lee.  “It would be in the employee handbook.  It would tell the employee who to go to, which is typically someone in human resources, explain your complaint and they would look into it.”

“It depends on what they decide, if they decide it is true, they would take steps to make sure the person who filed the complaint isn’t harmed and any wrong that was done to them is rectified,” said Lee.  “If they find that it’s not true, then they note that and move on.”

In the future, Lee offered advice to any employee who feels they have been discriminated against.  “I think it’s important that they document what happened in writing and they do talk to someone within the organization,” said Lee.  “If they don’t feel that anyone inside the institution can help them, then they can go to a state or federal agency and file a complaint.  Unless, they want to go to the top of the organization, but that has risks of course.  They have a number of choices.”

“Sometimes these situations, and I’m not trying to minimize the situation, are misunderstandings or poor communication, rather than actual unlawful discrimination,” said Lee.  “If it can be handled in an informal way, that’s much better than filing a complaint with an agency or filing a lawsuit, which is bad for everyone, including the person filing suit.”

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