Opinion

Harassment in the workplace — it matters

Employees in an open work space. (Photo: Monkey Business Images, via Shutterstock)

I recently signed a letter with state Sen. Connie Leyva, chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, and six other prominent women in California calling on J.J.Jelincic Jr. to drop out of the race for the CalPERS Board after his history of harassing women was revealed by the Sacramento Bee.

It matters that three women at CalPERS felt so uncomfortable working with Jelincic that they filed harassment charges against him, and that their allegations were upheld by the California State Personnel Board. As a CalPERS Board member in 2011, he was formally reprimanded.

It matters that this man who wielded power over these women has refused to acknowledge his behavior as unacceptable.

As fiduciaries, we also can no longer ignore the financial risks posed by sexual misconduct and inappropriate handling of misconduct claims.

Why does it matter?

Every employee deserves to work in a safe, respectful environment where they can reach their full potential without worrying about predatory behavior or a corrosive work environment.

Furthermore, hostile and unsafe workplaces can poison employee morale, sap productivity and increase turnover – which is harmful to CalPERS or any government agency, non-profit or private company.

Instead of apologizing to these women, Jelincic claims there is a conspiracy against him. I am sure it causes these women to feel even more embattled when their harasser uses these excuses.

When several years ago the CalPERS Board discussed instituting a policy against harassment and discrimination for the Board, Jelincic made public comments against it based on these so-called “conspiracies.”

It’s a shame that only now are these women’s stories truly being heard. When the charges were first made, it was a different time.

But times are different now. Numerous allegations against Harvey Weinstein uncovered a corporate culture that tolerated sexual abuse and predatory behavior, and led to the Weinstein Company’s bankruptcy. This is what gave birth to the #MeToo movement in 2017.

Sexual misconduct allegations against former Wynn Casinos Chairman Steve Wynn caused Wynn Casinos stock to drop, creating losses for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), which both invest in the company.

As leaders of CalPERS, we must protect our own institution, as well as set an example for the kind of behavior acceptable in the workplace.

As fiduciaries, we also can no longer ignore the financial risks posed by sexual misconduct and inappropriate handling of misconduct claims.

We have a special duty, as public officials entrusted with investing in companies to fund pensions and government services, to stop sexual harassment, sexual violence, and misconduct in the work place.

Companies that tolerate sexual misconduct may harm their ability to create long-term prosperity and value. Some organizations are tone-deaf and they are endorsing and supporting Jelincic in his new bid for the CalPERS board, even after the #MeToo movement.

Jelincic’s behavior disqualifies him to serve on the CalPERS board, and I am urging those organizations that have endorsed him to rescind their support. Further, I have called upon him to withdraw from the race.

There is more at stake here than one person’s candidacy. As leaders of CalPERS, we must protect our own institution, as well as set an example for the kind of behavior acceptable in the workplace.

Taking a stand matters to CalPERS employees, the retirees we serve, the companies we invest in, and the work culture we wish to create.

Editor’s Note: Fiona Ma is California’s 34th state treasurer and a member of the CalPERS Board of Administration.


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