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Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place: #MeToo Movement Creates Challenges for Directors

The #MeToo movement continues to make headlines across the globe, toppling more than 200 powerful U.S. company leaders in entertainment, media, sports and a variety of other industries.  According to EEOC reports, sexual harassment charges have increased by 14% and EEOC-filed lawsuits asserting harassment have increased by 50%.  Larger amounts of cash are being paid to settle harassment suits, and those amounts may be minor compared to the reputational damage of being tried in the court of public opinion.

Directors have long grappled with how to oversee company “culture” and employee behaviors.  Now many boards find themselves wedged between a rock and a hard place, as they struggle to balance the need for swift action when a complaint is made versus the need for appropriate due process rights for the accused.

Boards increasingly are expected to investigate stale and non-actionable claims and off-duty conduct.  They are also expected to treat wrongdoers swiftly and severely.  Employees and stockholders push for transparency in investigations, as boards temper the need for transparency with the risks of defamation, tort or other claims that may be brought by the accused, as well as personal privacy rights when dealing with controversial, off-duty conduct.

The potential unintended consequence of polarizing genders also must be monitored by the board.  Recent research found that two-thirds of male executives hesitate to hold one-on-one meetings with women in more junior positions for fear they could be misconstrued.  This behavior effectively deprives one gender of valuable mentorship and opportunities to interact with

Investigating Claims of Harassment: A Step-by-Step “How To” Part 6: Closing the Investigation and Additional Steps Thereafter

This final installment of a six-part series on harassment investigations discusses how to close the investigation and steps to take after the investigation has been closed.  As always, bear in mind that each harassment investigation is different and must be tailored to fit the particular circumstances.

Close the Investigation

Once the investigation has concluded, it is essential to close the investigation with the complainant, each witness, and the accused.  It may also be prudent, in some circumstances, to follow-up with the entire workforce. All close-out meetings that are held should be documented. When closing the investigation with the complainant, and generally with each witness, here are the key points to tell each person:

  • We are closing our investigation based on the information as we know it now. (This allows you to reopen if you learn more later.)
  • The Company has a strong non-discrimination and non-harassment policy. (Consider providing or showing a copy of the policy.)
  • The Company takes claims of discrimination and harassment seriously and follows up to stop it, if we can conclude that inappropriate conduct occurred.
  • (If appropriate:) We have taken action on the complaint that we received, but we are not free to disclose any disciplinary action taken toward other employees. (It may be appropriate to tell the complainant more here, such as specific actions taken, in order to help reassure the complainant that reasonable steps have been taken to end the conduct and prevent its recurrence, and/or to inform the complainant of any limitations or

Supreme Court Narrowly Construes the Definition of a Whistleblower Under Dodd-Frank

The Supreme Court held that an individual must report alleged wrongdoing to the Securities and Exchange Commission in order to qualify for protection from whistleblower retaliation under the Dodd-Frank Act.

Click here to read the Alert written by Bryan Cave attorneys on 2/21/18.

For more information about the SEC Whistleblower Program, click here. For more information about this update, or if you have any questions regarding Bryan Cave’s White Collar Defense and Investigations or Securities Litigation and Enforcement Groups, contact Mark Srere or Jennifer Mammen in Washington, D.C., at +1 202-508-6000, or for Bryan Cave’s Labor and Employment group, contact Elaine Koch or Jennifer Berhorst in Kansas City, MO, at +1 816-374-3200.

Investigating Claims of Harassment: A Step-by-Step “How To” Part 5: Other Sources of Evidence, Summarizing the Investigation, and Reaching a Conclusion

Before concluding a harassment investigation, the investigator should follow up with other possible sources of evidence, record and summarize the investigation, and reach a conclusion.  This fifth part of a six-part series discusses these final steps in the investigation process.  As always, bear in mind that each harassment investigation is different and must be tailored to fit the particular circumstances.

Follow Up With Other Possible Sources of Evidence

The investigator should consider whether any other sources of evidence exist that could aid in the investigation process and gather any such evidence. If the evidence is in the possession of either the complainant or the accused, the investigator should ask that the evidence be shared with him/her.

Some examples of physical evidence that may aid in the investigation process are:

  • Time cards
  • Calendars or diaries
  • Telephone records
  • Travel logs
  • Expense reports
  • Notes, letters, cards, and/or handwriting samples
  • Emails, voice mails, and text messages
  • Computer files and computer log-in/log-out information
  • Internet usage
  • Security/surveillance video
  • Building entry/exit swipe information
  • Recordings
  • Photos
  • Offensive material at issue (magazines, calendars, postings, etc.)
  • Personal gifts
  • Timing of the incident (e.g., just before or after a performance appraisal or just before or after the accused is rejected by the complainant or vice versa)
  • Physical evidence, such as maps or relative locations of the parties or the areas in which the complainant and others work
  • Prior performance evaluations
  • Documents containing other complaints by the complainant, other complaints about the accused, prior investigations involving the same persons, recent adverse

Investigating Claims of Harassment: A Step-by-Step “How To” Part 4: Note-Taking Techniques and Tips for Assessing Witness Credibility

In any investigation of a harassment complaint, the investigator must interview people and take notes.  This fourth part of a six-part series addresses techniques for note-taking and tips for assessing the credibility of witnesses.  As always, bear in mind that each harassment investigation is different and must be tailored to fit the particular circumstances.

Helpful Witness Interview Note-Taking Techniques

Make sure that your notes are legible and that they are clear on who said and did what and which part of the story is according to whom.

Start a new page for each interview.

At the top of the page, state the names of those present at an interview, the date, time and place of the interview.  Sign (or initial) and date the notes.

Although it is not necessary to write in complete sentences, the notes should be free from misspellings or grammatical errors so that the interviewer is not discredited in the course of litigation.

Take detailed notes, as close to verbatim as possible, during each interview.  If necessary, ask the interviewee to speak more slowly, so that your notes will be as thorough and accurate as possible.  Notes should provide enough information to understand, when reviewed later, what was asked and what information was provided.

Report matters asked of the interviewee as well as words spoken and facts provided by the interviewee.  Document any refusal to share information.

Do not include your interpretations, beliefs, assumptions, conclusions, etc., about the facts stated. Rather than guess at reasons or intentions,

Investigating Claims of Harassment: A Step-by-Step “How To” Part 3: Interviewing the Accused and Other Witnesses

You have received a complaint of harassment and interviewed the complainant.  In this third part of a six-part series, we discuss interviewing the accused and other witnesses.  As always, bear in mind that each harassment investigation is different and must be tailored to fit the particular circumstances.

Interviewing the Accused

At the beginning of the meeting, the investigator should:

  • Explain that a complaint of sexual (racial, etc.) harassment has been brought against the accused; that the Company is conducting a prompt and thorough investigation to determine if inappropriate conduct has occurred; and that no conclusion has yet been reached.
  • Identify your role as investigator.
  • Tell the accused that the Company prohibits retaliation against a complainant, and anyone the accused suspects may have participated in any way in the investigation.
  • Explain that the accused must provide a truthful account of what occurred, and identify all evidence and witnesses who may have relevant knowledge.
  • Explain that efforts will be made to share information on a need-to-know basis only, but do not promise confidentiality.
  • Explain the expected investigation procedure and the expected time frame involved.

During the Interview, the investigator should:

  • Explain the details of the allegations against him/her (the investigator need not disclose the source of the information, but usually should disclose the allegations in enough detail so that the accused can respond). Ask about the alleged conduct/comments first, before identifying the complainant.
  • Obtain the accused’s account of what occurred, as specifically as possible. (Depending on the circumstances, it

Investigating Claims of Harassment: A Step-by-Step “How To” Part 2: Interviewing the Complainant and Planning the Remainder of the Investigation

You have received a complaint of harassment.  What next?  In this second part of a six-part series, we focus on interviewing the complainant and planning the remainder of the investigation.  As always, bear in mind that each harassment investigation is different and must be tailored to fit the particular circumstances.

The interview of the complainant is usually the first and most important interview that will be conducted, and therefore, should be carefully planned beforehand. This interview, and all others, should be conducted in a private, neutral meeting space at your location. The following provides an illustration of the areas that should be covered by the investigator during the interview of the complainant.

At the beginning of the meeting, the investigator should:

  • Identify his/her role as investigator (i.e., you are a neutral conducting an investigation on behalf of the Company).
  • Ask the complainant whether he/she is comfortable with the investigator as the investigator and believes that he/she can conduct an impartial investigation. If the complainant is not comfortable with the investigator or indicates a belief that the investigator cannot conduct an impartial investigation, the investigator should try to identify another person to conduct the investigation. If the investigator is having difficulty with this, an HR supervisor or the Company’s attorney should be contacted.
  • Explain that the Company is conducting a prompt and thorough investigation to determine whether inappropriate conduct has occurred and, if it determines that it has, will take appropriate corrective action to stop it.
  • Assure the complainant that

Investigating Claims of Harassment: A Step-by-Step “How To” – Part 1: The Complaint

What if you were the Human Resources representative that received a complaint that Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, or any of the other number of accused sexually harassed an employee?  What if you were the in-house counsel and received the complaint?  With the rise of sexual harassment allegations receiving increased scrutiny, employers need to have proper procedures in place for handling claims of sexual and other harassment in the workplace.

This is the first of a six-part series that will address guidelines and suggestions for conducting investigations of harassment complaints. Each harassment investigation, however, is different, and any investigation should be tailored to fit the particular circumstances.

What Complaint?

A harassment “complaint” need not be written, nor does a “complaint” have to actually be made to anyone. Most of the time, an employee brings a complaint forward to a supervisor or to Human Resources. However, there are times that supervisors or Human Resources may “hear through the grapevine,” “shop talk,” or general remarks that someone believes that he or she has been harassed.  In these informal “rumor” situations, just as in the situation where a formal complaint is made, prompt investigation and follow-up should be immediately undertaken. Constant vigilance and careful monitoring is one of the ways that we can ensure a workplace free of harassing behavior.

As soon as you become aware of a harassment complaint, consider:

  • Harassment investigations must be conducted promptly. From the beginning of the investigation, until the complaint file is closed (meaning that
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