- The Washington Times - Friday, December 11, 2020

Claims that top Metro officials peddled a “deep-seated toxic workplace culture” including racism, sexual harassment and retaliation are “unsubstantiated,” according to an independent investigation released Friday by the Washington-area transit agency.

Metro hired the law firm Littler Mendelson, P.C. to conduct an independent review of working conditions and hostile work environment complaints published in the Washington Metropolitan Safety Commission (WMSA) audit in September.

The firm was also asked to determine if Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) Senior Vice President Lisa Woodruff and former Director Deltrin Harris “contributed to the hostile work environment by either engaging in or condoning unprofessional behavior,” according to the report memorandum.

“While the investigation did not substantiate allegations in the WMSC Report concerning racial discrimination, employees did report observing conduct that a person could perceive as sexual harassment; use of profanities; and hearing racial and homophobic comments,” the memorandum states. “However, Littler did not substantiate that this conduct stemmed from high-level managers or that high-level managers condoned this behavior.”

The three-month investigation included 12 interviews and documents ranging from Ms. Woodruff’s personnel file to employee complaints filed with the agency’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (OEEO).

“The documentation and interviews confirm that the work environment in the ROCC is demanding and can be daunting, but was not directly connected to Ms. Woodruff or Mr. Harris; rather it was the nature of the work,” the memorandum states.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in a statement that the report “exonerates” the two officials.

“While this bell cannot be unrung, the record must be set straight to restore the good names of transit professionals whose reputations were unfairly tarnished,” he said.

The investigation, however, did find that some claims against other employees were corroborated and that “disrespectful and unprofessional conduct is commonplace in the ROCC.”

One incident of unwanted physical contact was substantiated. The employee reportedly told a supervisor, who suggested filing an official complaint, but the employee chose not to due to confidentiality concerns. The firm found the employee did not want colleagues to find out and that ROCC employees “frequently are aware of their coworkers’ complaints.”

There was also evidence to support claims that ROCC managers threatened and used profanities against workers, but the actions were not “severe or pervasive” nor motivated by protected classifications, such as race or sex.

Moreover, the report found “no evidence” of managers retaliating against employees for filing a complaint.

“In fact, ROCC employees frequently raised complaints with OEEO without repercussions,” the memorandum stated.

Allegations that managers threatened to arrest or terminate workers for abiding by procedures or posing questions were unfounded. Additionally, the firm found that “discipline is frequent,” but it is “perceived as disproportionate to an infraction.”

During the review, Ms. Woodruff stepped down as senior vice president to serve as a technical adviser while Mike Haas, a former vice president of rail infrastructure maintenance, took over for her.

The audit has prompted Metro officials to “launch an overhaul” of the ROCC by making improvements to various operating procedures.

“Our work to transform the ROCC will continue under the new leadership that we have in place and we are on track to make short- and long-term improvements that go above and beyond required corrective actions,” Mr. Wiedefeld said. “We are committed to making our rail control center safety the standard bearer and envy of the transit industry.”

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