Harassment investigation by former City Manager against Mayor Pro Tem released

Evidence supported conclusion that Silverstein did not mistreat Feldman because of her gender

The “Confidential Investigation Report” into allegations of harassment and gender discrimination against Mayor pro-tem Bruce Silverstein by former City Manager Reva Feldman was completed last July. However, the results weren’t made public due to attorney-client privilege. On Feb. 3, Malibu City Council decided to waive its attorney-client privilege and release the findings to the public. 

The evidence supported the conclusion that Silverstein did not mistreat Feldman because of her gender. Allegations of general harassment, hostile environment, bullying, and other disruptive behavior unrelated to a protected class group like gender or race is not illegal.

The hostility Silverstein exhibited towards Feldman “reflected Silverstein’s dissatisfaction with Feldman’s performance in managing the City, and that they disagreed over various business issues,” the report concluded. There was no evidence that this conduct involved her gender, no evidence he mistreated other women, and plenty of evidence he could be just as critical of men.

The report pointed out that Silverstein and Feldman had a history of conflict going back to the Woolsey Fire of November 2018. And even before he was elected to City Council, they had numerous conflicts regarding city land use issues.  

Silverstein was just one member of a larger group that criticized Feldman’s work for years, further supporting the finding that his conduct toward her was unrelated to gender. Silverstein was vocal about wanting to remove Feldman from the City Manager’s job—this was one of his campaign promises, to expose the “corruption at the city” in which he believed Feldman was involved. In November 2020, residents elected Silverstein to City Council, in which he received the most votes, and his term began on Dec. 14.

Once elected, all communications between Silverstein and Feldman occurred by email due to Silverstein refused to meet with her in person unless the meetings were recorded—and Feldman would not agree.

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On Jan. 16, 2021, Feldman submitted a letter to the City through her attorney, asking for a separation agreement and buyout of her employment contract due to Silverstein’s mistreatment by “engaging in unprecedented personal and professional attacks.” She had started working for the City in 2005 and became City Manager in 2016. Effective May 1, 2021, prior to this investigation, she resigned through a negotiated separation.

In the January letter, Feldman complained about Silverstein’s general rude tone and criticisms, saying it demonstrated his condescension toward women. She didn’t believe he communicated in the same hostile and aggressive manner to men as he did to her, although she had no specific evidence of gender bias.

In her letter, Feldman complained, among other things, that Silverstein made disparaging comments about her and had purposefully overwhelmed her with a barrage of emails and information requests. Witnesses described that all the information requests exhausted and demoralized staff members. In addition, it was noted that allegedly Silverstein sent frequent emails at all hours, consistently told Feldman she wasn’t responding fast enough, and often resorted to name-calling. The investigation into these allegations began on May 3, 2021.

Silverstein’s communications and conduct toward and about Feldman were “frequently hostile and unprofessional,” according to the investigator, but not found to be gender-based, which would have made the behavior unlawful. For example, he submitted a 100-page Human Resources Complaint against Feldman, detailing a host of complaints, one being that she wouldn’t talk to him.

The investigator interviewed seven individuals – Silverstein and Feldman, as well as Heather Glaser, former city clerk; City councilmembers Karen Farrer and Mikke Pierson; Lisa Soghor, now-former assistant city manager; and Christi Hogan, former city attorney. These were the only people deemed to have “direct, significant and relevant information related to the specific incidents within the investigation’s scope.”

The investigator also reviewed a large number of documents related to the case, including over 500 emails and social media posts involving Silverstein’s disparaging comments about Feldman.

Four of the witnesses shared Feldman’s belief that Silverstein’s conduct constituted gender-based mistreatment. However, they didn’t provide any specific evidence to support gender bias other than their opinions that he wouldn’t have treated a male City Manager the same way.

Silverstein steadfastly denied exhibiting any gender bias. He told the investigator that Feldman “had no right to have respectful bosses” and that “even if he acted like a jerk to her, doing so was not a violation of law or policy.”

Feldman had accused Silverstein of also mistreating three other women who worked with the City: Glaser, Hogin, and Soghor. Silverstein denied he mistreated these three; but agreed he was critical of Hogin.

Feldman claimed Silverstein consistently berated Hogin and “took her to task” on everything she said. Hogin contradicted Feldman in the investigation, saying she never met Silverstein in person, and had only limited contact with him via email and phone.

When it came to Glaser, Feldman’s letter stated she quit her City Clerk job because of Silverstein; after having to respond to his voluminous information requests.

Glaser agreed that Silverstein’s conduct made it difficult to do a good job and that she didn’t want to continue working with him. Glaser observed that Silverstein’s communications with Feldman caused a lot of “unnecessary drama” and that he would “throw tantrums” at City Council meetings, but he never said anything inappropriate or unprofessional to her. She also said she’d applied for another job two months before Silverstein took office.

Feldman’s letter stated that a third female, Soghor, turned down the vacant City Manager position so she wouldn’t have to deal with Silverstein.

Soghor verified to the investigator that this was true— she declined the City Manager job because she assumed Silverstein had the same opinion of City staff as he had of Feldman—that they were all corrupt—and that he would have treated her accordingly. Soghor stated that she didn’t “want that target on her back” but agreed that Silverstein never said anything inappropriate or unprofessional to her.

Multiple witnesses corroborated that Silverstein also engaged in challenging and hostile communications towards men, and this was also evidenced by his obstructive behavior and comments during City Council meetings, emails, and social media disparaging other men.

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