* Bruce Rushton…
An investigator with the inspector general’s office for the state Department of Human Services remains on the job despite findings that he has sexually harassed employees of agencies that hold DHS contracts.
According to a report released last month by the state Executive Ethics Commission, Manuel “Manny” Zepeda told three women employed by Marcfirst, a Normal nonprofit that helps the developmentally disabled, that he had an ex-girlfriend who once obtained Viagra for him. Then he told the women that his wife liked to have sex in hotels. All the time, according to the report prepared by the Office of the Executive Inspector General, Zepeda was staring at a whiteboard in the agency office, and when someone said, “That’s not on our board,” Zepeda said that he should probably leave before he got another sexual harassment complaint against him. The conduct occurred in July 2018.
Reactions from employees, according to the report, ranged from alarm to someone who said, “This is just typical Manny” and, “You have to play along.” One of the employees who witnessed Zepeda’s behavior had met him that day. Zepeda was in Marcfirst offices to conduct an investigation, the nature of which wasn’t disclosed in the report released by the ethics commission. As an investigator, Zepeda is charged with investigating allegations of abuse, financial exploitation and neglect involving people who receive services from agencies licensed, funded, operated or certified by DHS.
One Marcfirst employee told the inspector general that Zepeda was “always inappropriate and creepy,” but she had decided to “let it go.” While she said that she was offended and made uncomfortable by Zepeda’s comments, she said she didn’t feel that she could speak up because her agency might suffer negative consequences from his investigations.
Another employee had similar concerns.
“I’ve always been told by coworkers to go along with what Manny says because it could affect the outcome of the case he is inquiring about,” the employee wrote in a statement.
* Hannah Meisel…
Zepeda was put on 30 days of unpaid leave earlier this fall, according to DHS spokesperson Meghan Powers, after having been moved off of investigations involving the disability service agencies whose employees made complaints. Additionally, a letter has been put in his personnel file.
“IDHS takes employee misconduct extremely seriously,” Powers said in a statement. “In 2018, IDHS strengthened its sexual harassment policy, which was relied upon for the OEIG report. We will continue to aggressively enforce anti-harassment policies and ensure a safe environment for those we represent and serve.”
Zepeda received a pay bump of $1,000 per pay period in 2019, from $6,800 last year to $7,800. Even with his 30-days of unpaid suspension time, Zepeda has made $75,800 so far in 2019, according to state records.
Zepeda’s union contact with AFSCME may have played a role in both the raise — as state workers finally received step increases earlier this year that had been denied to them by former Gov. Bruce Rauner — and Zepeda’s continued employment with DHS.
The full report is here.