California department head audited for nepotism, whistleblower retaliation

As the state is going bankrupted, officials line their family’s pockets.

The California State Audit released the findings of a whistleblower investigation involving a department director accused of nepotism, retaliation and slim improvements following the report’s recommendations.

Although the audit keeps the department and identities confidential, the timeline within the report coincides with the abrupt departure of Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) Director Christine Baker, who retired around the time a draft copy of the audit was made available.

Baker could not be reached for comment.

A former DIR employee also filed a lawsuit over accusations she was fired for participating in the audit investigation. The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA), said the union is legally representing that employee, identifying her as Socorro Tongco.

“The report that was released (Tuesday) syncs with the chronology of events that transpired during the course of our client’s employment at DIR,” CSLEA Chief Counsel Kasey Clark said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the former director and willing accomplices set in motion the processes which resulted in Ms. Tongco’s dismissal.”

California Labor Secretary Julie Su oversees DIR and sent the following statement to KCRA’s request for confirmation and comment:

“This report raised serious concerns. Among the many important roles that the Labor Agency plays in securing just working conditions for Californians, our job is to prevent retaliation against employees who exercise their rights in the workplace, which makes any retaliatory conduct within the agency all the more unacceptable.”

State Auditor Elaine Howle legally has discretion to keep audits private, and to keep identities and agencies confidential. Her office explained they followed the California Whistleblower Protection Act.

“If I were to provide the name of the department, I would essentially be divulging the identities of several individuals, which is a misdemeanor under our statutes,” Howle said in an excerpt of a statement. “The report contains all the information we are able to reveal without violating the law.”


Here is a look at the key findings in highlighted in the auditor’s report:


  • The director is accused of preselecting her daughter for a position, as well as inappropriately approving her promotion.
  • Her brother also served as Chief Information Officer for the department.


  • The audit found the daughter failed to perform duties, as well as made false claims about hours and assignments worked.
  • As a result, between 2015 and 2017 the daughter earned $129,329 of fraudulent pay.


  • The audit said the director facilitated bad faith appointments for the benefit of one person whom she hired from private industry and rapidly promoted to an executive role.
  • The director also approved a continuation of extra pay without documenting that it satisfied applicable criteria.


  • The audit reported that the director repeatedly referenced employees by race and ethnicity.
  • Examples include referencing a group of subordinates as “all [a] part of the Filipino network,” another employee as “an African American tough cookie,” as well as referring to the “gray tsunami” when talking about the aging workforce.
  • The director is also accused of fostering a culture of loyalty and fear, as well as trying to identify whistleblowers and retaliating against them.


  • The audit was initially privately released to the department last year with a series of recommendations.
  • The report become public Tuesday after Howle said the department did not fully implement any of the recommendations issued in the audit.

“We expected that the agency would take swift and appropriate disciplinary action against the director and associated subjects, protect those who cooperated with the investigation, and implement our recommendations to prevent future improper activities,” in an excerpt of the audit.

The department or State Personnel Board did not take any action against Baker, who retired with full benefits and pension.

“People retired or left to go work at other state agencies,” said David Wolfe with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “There were no internal changes, really, to deal with the problem.”

Wolfe was most disturbed by the department’s disregard of whistleblower protections, despite strict instructions from the state auditor.

Assemblymember Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, is working to expand whistleblower protections. AB 1200 would extend protections to state employees who confide in the Legislature.

“We can’t simply continue to disclose and discover the terrible things that are going on – particularly in this case – and just have it business as usual,” Patterson said.

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