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Agency disciplines employees over inappropriate e-mail

April 26, 2002 

Six workers have been fired, two have been disciplined and at least 14 are under investigation for excessive use of computers in the state Department of Labor and Industries for personal e-mail, much of it sexual in nature.

Hundreds of sexually explicit messages ranging from banter to planning for a sex party was found, agency officials said.

``I was extremely surprised and disappointed,'' said Eva Santos, L&I's deputy director for operations. ``We have very clear policies that we don't tolerate this kind of behavior. It's a level of abuse that I didn't expect.''

At least two of those who were fired are appealing through their union, saying the agency's policies were never made clear and claiming others committed worse e-mail violations without being disciplined.

Tim Welch, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees, said the union would do what it can to help.

``We want to make sure that it's been handled fairly and make sure that no bad precedent is set,'' Welch said. ``They could have been swapping cookie recipes. We don't really care about the content. We do care that they're being treated fairly.''

Labor and Industries, the third-largest agency in Washington state government with 2,700 employees, regulates workplace safety and provides workers compensation insurance.

State regulations and department policies bar the transmission of sexually explicit e-mail and excessive use of state computers for personal purposes.

Investigators found no evidence that employees exchanged child pornography or did anything else illegal, nor was there any indication of sexual harassment, Santos said Wednesday.

``No one has come forward and said, `I was offended by this,' '' she said.

Santos said a sexually explicit message from one employee was found in an unrelated disciplinary investigation last fall, and more widespread violations were found after investigators began checking that person's e-mail history.

Since December, Christopher Bowen, Terry Hadley, Tasha Newitt and Denise Richardson have been fired for what department investigators found was inappropriate e-mail, including sexually explicit content.

Karen Langer and Sandra LeVie were fired in January for excessive personal e-mails that did not involve sexual content.

Eliezar Montalvo was cited for sexually explicit e-mail and demoted, and Sharyn Niemi was forced to take a 10 percent pay cut for three months for what officials said was e-mail with ``mild sexual content.''

Another 14 employees have been notified that they are under investigation, Santos said.

Most of the affected employees were clerical workers, such as office assistants, at agency headquarters in this town south of Olympia, and no managers were involved, Santos said.

By The Associated Press. Copyright © 2002 The Register-Guard

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