Harris County, Texas Fires Information Technology Chief for Refusal to take Sexual Harassment Training
Why Harris County Fired Rick Noriega: What You Need to Know
Retired Major General Rick Noriega was hired as Chief Information Officer for Harris County, Texas, in 2020. Harris County contains the City of Houston with a population of over 4.7 million. According to the Houston Chronicle, the county recently fired Noriega following his refusal to complete mandatory online sexual harassment training. Noriega’s refusal to take the training comes on the heels of an accusation of sexual harassment against Noriega by a subordinate in December 2022.
Memorandum Provided to Noriega Contains the Reasoning for His Immediate Dismissal
According to a memorandum provided to the Chronicle and other media outlets, Interim County Administrator Diana Ramirez “determined a change in leadership [was] required due to [Noriega’s] failure or refusal to complete required sexual harassment training.” According to multiple news sources, Noriega is threatening to sue the county and Ramirez for “retaliatory and defamatory conduct.” It is apparently undisputed that Noriega refused to complete online harassment training sessions or attend an in-person workshop as conditions of his continued employment with the County.
Noriega’s Statement Indicates His Tone-Deaf Nature
In a release to the press on May 16, 2023, Noriega stated, “I have never been more offended or insulted in my 40 years of public service. I intend to sue Judge Lina Hidalgo and her Acting County Administrator for their retaliatory and defamatory conduct. Harris County deserves better leaders.”
It is important to mention that the allegations against Noriega were reportedly substantiated by “substantial evidence.” A chron.com article on the Noriega filing reported that Noriega allegedly hugged a County employee and kissed her in the workplace. The County conducted a thorough investigation, which concluded in April 2023, and prescribed in-person and online harassment training for Noriega as a condition of continued employment. As the online training date passed, Noriega held steadfast in his refusal to complete the sessions yet blamed leadership for its failures.
Positive Changes to Workplace Culture Start at the Top
Noriega is a decorated Army Veteran who once ran for United States Senate in Texas. He was hired in a leadership position as Chief Information Officer in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. As such, Noriega had every opportunity to champion the virtues of conducting harassment training, even if he had doubts or denials as to his culpability in the December 2022 allegations against him. Instead, Noriega refused training and threatened to sue the County, which sought to keep him employed. This selfish behavior prevents organizations and governments from truly implementing their message and fighting against workplace harassment. The message loses credibility when the leaders refuse to take the training provided. At least in Harris County’s case, the employer had the fortitude to immediately terminate Noriega’s employment for refusing to take the training. Other organizations have not been so quick to act.
Resistance to Training Must be Combatted with a Positive Message
Your organization must send the message to your employees that learning is embraced and not merely “assigned” for compliance purposes. When your leadership celebrates the virtues of continued learning and discussion on important topics like harassment and discrimination, this buy-in has a proven trickle-down effect. When employees are encouraged not only to take the training but to spend time understanding its meaning and discussing it with leadership and the other members of their team, there is a positive impact on culture. Such a benefit is a win not only for the potential victims of harassment but for organizational culture as a whole.
Syntrio would be proud to speak with a member of your staff about how its products can help your organization train its workforce and provide them with a mechanism for speaking up about complaints. We also have a wide variety of communications tools that keep issues like diversity, equity and inclusion, employment discrimination, EEO, and sexual (and other workplaces) harassment front of mind, even when formal training is not occurring. We welcome the opportunity to partner with your organization to make its culture the best.