The unit inside the Seattle Department of Human Resources will investigate city-employee complaints originating in every department under the mayor’s authority.

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Following complaints about Seattle’s handling of harassment and discrimination involving its employees, the city will create a new unit to carry out investigations of workplace misconduct, per an executive order signed Friday by Mayor Jenny Durkan.

The unit inside the Seattle Department of Human Resources will investigate city-employee complaints originating in every department under the mayor’s authority.

That means departments like Seattle City Light will no longer conduct their own investigations into discrimination and harassment allegations.

Durkan’s order also calls for new workplace expectations to be written, new training to be developed and a new ombud office to provide support to employees experiencing harassment and discrimination and to report to the mayor on systemic issues.

“As we continue to build a more just, inclusive and equitable city, it is critical that we look inward and evaluate the ways in which our city can create a safe workplace for all employees,” Durkan said in a statement.

“When I took office, it was clear we needed to make significant changes.”

The mayor says her order was informed by months of discussions by a 21-member team with representatives from various departments, the City Council and labor unions, along with the Seattle Silence Breakers — a group of city employees and activists that began meeting last year to speak out about harassment and discrimination.

The Silence Breakers and their supporters have expressed a lack of confidence in departments such as City Light to conduct their own investigations.

“The investigations are done by someone internal who has a boss, and that boss hired the people being investigated,” Guadalupe Perez-Garcia, a former longtime union representative for City Light office workers, told The Seattle Times in February.

A recent survey on harassment and discrimination at the city uncovered alarming themes, including mistrust of management, fear of retaliation, lack of transparency, bias in hiring and ageism.

With more than 4,000 employees participating — about 30 percent of the city workforce — 32 percent of black respondents said they had experienced different treatment based on race and significant percentages of employees with various racial and ethnic identities said they had been been treated differently based on gender.

The city has paid at least $4.4 million in the last decade to settle at least 52 cases involving employee allegations of discrimination.

“These changes are a crucial step,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, a member of the citywide team that looked at harassment and discrimination issues, said in a statement. “I’m encouraged by the progress we’ve made and acknowledge we still have work to do.”

For several years, an effort has been under way to consolidate Seattle’s department-based HR staff and functions into the city’s central HR department. That push stumbled under former Mayor Ed Murray due to problems with the HR department and resistance among leaders elsewhere in the bureaucracy, employees have said.

Friday’s order could accelerate the process. The new investigative unit’s work is slated to begin work Jan. 1 and proceed in phases, Durkan wrote in an email to city employees.

The new unit won’t investigate cases in the City Council, City Attorney’s Office and Seattle Public Library because those departments aren’t under the mayor’s authority.

“By consolidating all misconduct investigations into one place, we are clarifying the reporting process and reducing bureaucracy so that city employees know exactly who to contact,” Durkan wrote. “Investigations will be conducted fairly, impartially and consistently across the city.”

Denise Krownbell, a City Light employee who co-chairs the Silence Breakers, hailed Durkan’s order as mostly positive. But Seattle leaders still have much to prove, she said.

“While taking investigations out of individual departments” should yield better results, “there is still the concern that Seattle HR will want to depress numbers and reporting,” Krownbell said.

“Trust needs to be rebuilt,” she added, calling for immediate relief for employees with active complaints.

Durkan is scheduled to unveil her proposed 2019 budget Monday and said it will reflect the plans outlined in her anti-harassment and anti-discrimination order.

“We will see,” how the changes are supported by the budget, Krownbell said. “There are many competing needs in the city, so we hope the executive order is fully funded.”

Amy Bowles, a representative for PTE Local 17, applauded Durkan’s order. Her union represents Seattle office workers.

“These changes are crucial for our almost 3,000 members, as well as all city employees, to have a safe place to report harassment, bullying and discrimination,” Bowles said in a statement Friday.

“For too long, our members have worked without reporting these experiences and observations because they fear retaliation or further harassment.”