The Los Angeles Community College District (District) is the largest community college district in the country with nine colleges located throughout Los Angeles County. This audit focuses on the District's Personnel Commission (Commission), to which state law assigns personnel-related responsibilities for the District's classified, or nonacademic, employees. The Commission's primary purpose is to establish and administer a merit-based system for hiring, promoting, and classifying these employees. Classified employees, representative labor groups, and administrators have expressed concerns that the Commission has engaged in inconsistent practices and failed to apply its rules fairly, consistently, and in accordance with state law. Prompted in part by these concerns, this audit reviews the Commission's application and examination processes for hiring and promotion; its processes for making fair personnel decisions; and its processes for reviewing applicants' and employees' complaints, grievances, and appeals, among other things. This report draws the following conclusions:
Inconsistent and Unjustified Qualification Decisions and Examination Scores Raise Concerns About the Impartiality of the Commission's Decisions
The Commission made inconsistent decisions when it screened examination applicants for minimum qualifications. A lack of clear definitions for key terms and the Commission staff's inconsistent use of past applications and information from other sources contributed to these inconsistent decisions. These inconsistencies highlight the need for the Commission to notify applicants of the specific reasons they are disqualified. The Commission has also neither ensured that its raters—subject matter experts who assess the examination performance of candidates who are applying for District jobs—scored candidates' performance consistently, nor have they always adequately justified the candidate scores they awarded, likely in part because the Commission has not established guidelines requiring them to do so for all candidates. By allowing such wide latitude to its raters, the Commission increases the risk that they will base their scores on factors other than a candidate's performance on the examination.
Supervisors may assign work to employees outside their assigned job duties (known as out-of-class work), in which case the employees can file a claim to receive additional compensation. However, the Commission's practice is to approve payment for these claims after an employee has completed the higher-level job duties. As a result, for most out-of-class claims we reviewed, employees did not receive payment until five to 11 months after they began performing the higher-level duties. In addition, during the three-year period we reviewed, the Commission required that employees submit claims for additional compensation within 100 days of beginning their out-of-class work even though the Commission generally does not process these claims before the employee finishes the work. In two of the six cases, the Commission reduced the compensation when the employees did not submit by the deadline. Further exacerbating this problem, the Commission shortened the 100-day period to only 45 days in April of 2020. In contrast, California state agencies may reimburse claims for out-of-class work submitted up to a year after employees begin performing additional duties.
The Commission does not track all complaints it receives from employees, and it could not demonstrate that it had adequately addressed some complaints. Although the Commission receives complaints through several methods, during the period we reviewed, it tracked only complaints made during public meetings. The Commission adequately responded to complaints raised in public meetings, but it could not document that it responded to five of the 21 email complaints that we reviewed. Further, the Commission's rules allowed the former director inappropriate access to allegations against her, exposing these whistleblower complainants to potential retaliation.
Summary of Recommendations
To ensure that it makes consistent decisions when assessing applicants' minimum qualifications, the Commission should define for its staff and for applicants key qualification-related application terms and provide disqualification notices to applicants that describe its reasons for disqualifying them.
The Commission should establish a method to determine candidates' overall examination scores based on its raters' evaluations of their individual skills, and it should require raters to use this method in determining overall scores. It should also require raters to provide justification for the scores they award.
The Commission should compensate employees each month for the out-of-class work they perform. In addition, it should allow employees at least 100 days, rather than 45, to file a claim before it reduces their compensation.
The Commission should amend its rules to create a formal process for addressing all complaints, should establish that complainant information may not be shared with the subject of a whistleblower complaint, and should direct whistleblower complaints to the District's general counsel, who will have the responsibility of designating an appropriate party to respond to such complaints.
The Commission disagreed with a number of our conclusions, objected to some of the phrasing in our report, and criticized our methodologies and staff expertise. Nonetheless, it agreed with many of our recommendations and stated that it will implement most of them. We address the Commission's response in our comments.