Initially highly touted by state leaders, a task force assigned to make improvements in the state’s sexual harassment policies quietly released its final report and recommendations last summer, and are still being “analyzed and vetted” by the governor’s office.
The “Governor’s Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Law and Policy” was created through executive order minutes after Gov. Steve Sisolak was sworn into office on Jan. 7, 2019, in the new governor’s first official act. Helmed by Attorney General Aaron Ford, the task force was composed of 11 members and charged with conducting a top-to-bottom review of the state’s policies on sexual discrimination and harassment.
“In this order, we intended to send a clear message that sexual harassment and discrimination has no place in Nevada,” Sisolak said at the time.
More than a year later, the task force has finished its work and submitted a report full of recommendations, but most if not all of the proposed changes to the state’s anti-sexual and gender harassment policies remain on the drawing board and have not been implemented.
Part of the delay can be attributed to many of the recommended changes requiring changes in state law, meaning that they will likely need to wait until the 2021 Legislature to be implemented.
But other recommendations appear to have not yet been implemented in the seven months since the final report by the task force was submitted.
In a statement, Sisolak spokesman Ryan McInerney said the governor viewed the task force and its recommendations as the “first phase in a larger process to implement meaningful change” and that the state’s Department of Administration was working to implement the recommendation.
“The Governor is grateful to the Task Force for its intensive work in gathering and reviewing sexual harassment and discrimination policies and making recommendations to improve Nevada’s approach to protection from sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” McInerney said in an emailed statement. “The Department of Administration has been leading the next phase of this work by distilling the recommendations of the Task Force into policies and procedures that will improve the state’s training program, allegation reporting and investigation protocol, and privacy protection safeguards.”
The report, which was finished in June, also stated that the number of reported sex-and-gender based harassment complaints submitted by state employees had doubled since the task force was created. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the number of such complaints rose by nearly 50 percent in 2019 compared to the previous year.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Administration said the agency was in the midst of fulfilling the administrative recommendations, including updating state executive branch policy, administrative code and reviewing state training programs.
McInerney also said that new Department of Administration Director Laura Freed is “equally committed to this goal and the work that is underway.” Freed was appointed last month, after former director Deonne Contine resigned in November 2019.
Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Klapstein said in an email that Freed is doing a "rapid deep dive" into the recommendations made by the task force and issues around sexual harassment and discrimination policies.
"She has already asked for a thorough review of the processes and procedures for complaints and investigations in order to determine where further implementation and oversight authority may be needed," she said in an email. "In collaboration with the Governor’s office, she will continue the ongoing work of addressing these critical issues and helping to build and maintain a state work environment that is safe, inclusive, and accountable."
The task force was helmed by Attorney General Aaron Ford, a fellow Democrat who on the 2018 campaign trail had promised to create a “Gold Standard” of sexual harassment prevention strategies for public officials and private employers. It met at least four times between March and May of 2019.
“The thoughtful analysis and recommendations from the Task Force is just the first step to ensure that Nevada’s workers are free from harassment and discrimination,” Ford said in a statement. “Governor Sisolak took leadership on this issue by appointing the Task Force and I will continue to work with the governor, his agencies, and leaders across the state to create a culture of dignity and respect for all.”
The outlined policies included several suggestions that will require legislative changes, but several that can be accomplished through changing state regulations and other internal policies.
It suggested use of the term “sexual harassment” was “under-inclusive,” and suggested replacing the term in relevant state policies and administrative code to “sex-and gender-based harassment.”
The report also found that while the state’s Department of Administration has an active policy against sex and gender-based discrimination, there was no requirement under state law for the agency to do so.
Klapstien said the agency was working to update state administrative code to reflect the recommended changes, including requiring new state-employed supervisors and managers to complete training on unlawful discrimination and harassment and east the sharing of investigations between agencies. She said the changes would likely be approved in March.
It recommended that in addition to requiring the policy in law, the state more clearly delineates which policies should be required to be included in a State Executive Branch policy against sex and gender-based harassment, and require a special harassment and discrimination investigation unit in the Division of Human Resource Management to be required under law.
“By statutorily requiring this investigative team, the State both sends a strong message to its employees that its policy will be enforced, and also safeguards any future attempt to dismantle this important unit,” the report stated.
It also found that there was no statutory requirement that private sector companies contracting with the state had to have policies preventing sexual or gender-based discrimination. It recommended the state adopt a policy used by the state of Oregon where vendors for any competitive contract worth more than $100,000 would be required to prove that they have a “policy and practice” against sex-and-gender based harassment and discrimination.
Klapstein said that the state had added a feature in Nevada's online portal for purchasing for vendors to inform the state if they have an anti-sexual harassment and discrimination policy.
It also recommended that the governor support and sign SB177, a bill in the 2019 Legislature that changed state law to allow any person discriminated against for any illegal purpose (including sexual orientation, gender identity or expression) to sue in state court and receive the same remedies under a similar federal law.
Other, non-law changes included updating language in administrative code, reviewing state training programs on preventing sexual or gender-based harassment, and adopting a new sex-and-gender based harassment and discrimination policy that is “more modern and clarified.”
Updated at 3:28 p.m. to include additional information from the Department of Administration on which recommendations of the task force have been completed.