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California Government Code 8547.12 states, in part, that “state employees should be free to report waste, fraud, abuse of authority, violation of law, or threat to public health without fear of retribution.”
But Wednesday, eight current and former employees of the California State University system charged that the institution’s method of carrying out the code has led to retaliation by the university in multiple instances.
The university created a policy in 2002 in an effort to comply with the state code. It allows employees and applicants for employment to file a written complaint alleging retaliation for having made a “protected disclosure” to their supervisor or manager or to the chancellor’s designee. A protected disclosure is defined as “any good faith communication that discloses or demonstrates an intent to disclose information that may evidence a) an ‘improper government activity’ or b) any condition that may threaten the health or safety of employees or the public if the disclosure or intention to disclose was made for the purpose of remedying that condition.”
“Improper government activity,” in turn, is defined as “any activity by a CSU department or employee that amounts to corruption, malfeasance, bribery, theft of government property, fraudulent claims, fraud, coercion, malicious prosecution, misuse of government property, or willful omission to perform duty, or 2) is economically wasteful, or involves gross misconduct, incompetence, or inefficiency.”
Maria Carreira, an associate professor of Spanish at California State’s Long Beach campus, delivered the group’s unflattering message to a meeting of the university system’s Board of Trustees Wednesday.
“It is my unfortunate task today to inform you, that yesterday, at 4:35 pm, our group submitted a complaint to the California Bureau of State Audits in which, in effect, we blew the whistle on the CSU whistle blower office,” she said in her testimony to the board. “In short,” said Carreira, “we believe that ironically, the [CSU Office of Employee Relations] may be responsible for more waste of taxpayer funds, and more personal and professional harm to individual CSU employees, than any other entity within the CSU system.”
Through an examination of public university records, the group says that it has found at least 38 CSU system employees who “blew the whistle” for various reasons and later filed retaliation complaints. “Many whistle blowers report that their decision to become a whistle blower has led to a ruination of their careers at CSU, not to mention life altering financial and emotional distress,” said Carreira. “In an outward sign of this dysfunction, six lawsuits are currently ongoing, brought by former whistle blowers against the CSU, and there will be a seventh as of this Friday.” A review of local newspaper reports indicates that at least that many lawsuits are, in fact, ongoing.
Carreira, a faculty member since 1991, initially filed a 99-page whistle blower report of her own in January 2003. Among other grievances, she alleged that a department head allowed a family au pair to teach an undergraduate Italian class while allowing a colleague to receive credit for the work. Carreira’s report, which was supposed to be confidential, was ultimately shared with several of her colleagues who, in turn, said she was operating out of ill will and trying to destroy the romance languages department.
Maria Santos, who directs the Office of Employee Relations, said that ultimately Carreira’s claim was found to have merit. She was compensated with $5,000, but she did not cash the check, according to Santos. She also was given permission to temporarily teach a reduced course load.
After listening to the group’s complaints during the trustee meeting, Santos said that its “facts are not accurate” and that she is confident that the office will be able to defend itself in any lawsuits. She said that she operates with a staff of four and a half workers and a small budget, but declined to provide a precise operating range.
“When we do find evidence of retaliation,” said Santos,” we do try our best to fix it. We have always responded seriously to whistle blowers and will continue to do so.”