Report says Coroner’s Office has ‘inappropriate’ atmosphere

| June 05, 2006

A county investigation has found "repeated inappropriate behaviors of a sexual nature" over the last six years in the form of off-color jokes and lewd behavior at the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office.

The report was made public shortly before Tuesday’s election, in which county Coroner Robert Foucrault faces a write-in candidate in an attempt to secure his position.

An investigation by Mary Kabakov, director of employee and public services for the county, was launched in response to an anonymous complaint in August last year.

A report was made to the county counsel in September but not made public until last week.

Kabakov’s report stated that employees "engaged in a pattern of sexual behaviors dating back to at least 2000," including sexual banter, innuendo, decorations of a sexual nature on a birthday cake and teasing about one employee’s sexual orientation.

"The investigation supports that, more likely than not, repeated inappropriate behaviors of a sexual nature did occur that a reasonable person would find offensive," the report said.

Staff had not taken part in sexual harassment training nor signed county policies, although Foucrault himself received the training in 2000, according to the report.

The report also found it probable that Foucrault, 43, had "mooned" employees in one incident, based on the reports of two employees. Foucrault denied exposing himself, according to the report.

"Foucrault stated that he finds it a challenge to balance how to allow staff to let off steam for working a tough job versus behaviors that may be inappropriate," the report said, later adding: "He denied initiating comments or sexual jokes and states when he hears or sees something questionable he ‘shuts it down.’"

No legal claims have been filed against Foucrault, who did not return a call seeking comment Sunday. He faces competition in Tuesday’s election from Stacie Lynn Nevares, a Coroner’s Office employee who has qualified as a write-in candidate.

Nevares said Sunday that she knew nothing about the complaint.

Shortly before Kabakov’s report was made public, San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill publicly pulled his endorsement of Foucrault’s campaign.

"There are a number of reasons [why I pulled my endorsement]," Hill said. "I talked to the coroner specifically about why I was withdrawing, and I want to leave it at that."

Much of the banter allegedly focused on Deputy Coroner Felipe Fernandez, who shares a birthday with Foucrault.

Their 2005 birthday cake was topped with a negligee-clad female statue, which was then placed in full view on Fernandez’s desk, the anonymous tipster told Kabakov.

Employees frequently made jokes questioning Fernandez’s sexual orientation, but some workers claimed Fernandez helped foster the office’s off-color atmosphere, according to interviews in the report. Fernandez could not be reached for comment Sunday.

The alleged activity may predate Foucrault, who took the top coroner’s post after Coroner Adrian "Bud" Moorman died in 2001.

A female investigator, whose name is blacked out in Kabakov’s report, said her blouse was ripped off; when she reported it, Moorman allegedly told her, "Good, you can quit."

The same employee depicted the atmosphere in the Coroner’s Office as "lighthearted and fun," and peppered with "sick humor" regarding "difficult cases,death and body parts," the report states.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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