BARSTOW — A workplace harassment claim filed against a top city official sparked a nearly three-month investigation extending to interviews with as many as two dozen employees, the Daily Press has learned.
The complaint filed by at least one colleague against Gaither Loewenstein, the city's economic development and planning manager, accuses him of repeatedly making lewd or insensitive comments in the workplace that were sexual in nature. The comments were also sometimes purportedly discriminatory against age and gender, according to sources with knowledge of the inquiry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could speak freely.
Loewenstein, when reached by phone Thursday and asked to address the situation, said he appreciated the opportunity to comment but he declined to do so. Assistant City Manager Cindy Protho abstained from acknowledging the claim or investigation, citing policy.
"All personnel information, including the possibility of any investigations, are confidential," she wrote in an email Thursday. "(B)ecause of this, the City cannot confirm that any investigation is ongoing regarding any employee matter."
Loewenstein was not placed on administrative leave during the investigation, the sources said, and it was unclear when or if the probe, conducted by an outside agency, had completed.
The investigation, launched sometime in September or October, has so far included a bevy of city employees, potentially 20 or more, who were individually interviewed off-site, according to the sources.
Generally, a claim will be heard in closed session by a governing board. In this case, it would be the City Council. If a claim is rejected, it can then lead to a lawsuit being filed.
That scenario played out earlier this year when Michelle Baird, the board clerk at Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District, filed a civil complaint against the agency after her claim had been denied. Baird contended retaliation after she said she was a whistle-blower to wrong-doings by the agency's then-executive director.
Shea Johnson can be reached at 760-955-5368 or SJohnson@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DP_Shea.