Dam Break at AWU?
An assistant director is placed on leave amid allegations of discrimination
City officials have launched an investigation into discrimination complaints filed by four female employees against an assistant director at the Austin Water Utility. Gopal Guthikonda, a city employee since 1987 and an assistant director for more than two years, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the findings of an independent investigation into allegations of pay disparity and disrespectful behavior, according to city documents. Guthikonda oversees the engineering division of the Water Utility and is the second AWU division manager this year to face complaints filed by employees, although the first to be placed on leave as a result. City Manager Marc Ott notified the City Council of Guthikonda's leave in a Nov. 13 memo. Guthikonda has vigorously denied the allegations against him. "These complaints appear to be based upon the fact that I am a male in a position of authority," he wrote to Ott in a letter dated Nov. 10. He went on to say that he has "hired, promoted, mentored and worked with and under women throughout my career." The action appears to have been touched off by a Sept. 2 letter to Ott that was signed by four women – all AWU engineers with a combined 70 years of service to the city – saying they have worked in a "discriminatory environment" for more than two years. "The system we should be able to trust, has failed us," the women wrote, citing the failure of AWU's chain of command and the Human Resources Department to respond to their complaints. The disruption comes at a critical juncture as AWU moves toward construction of the controversial Water Treatment Plant No. 4, which will ultimately cost nearly $1 billion.