Early Intervention Can Help Prevent Sexual Harassment Charges

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Education

A Jesuit priest who was the president of a prestigious Manhattan Catholic high school, faces removal from his position following an investigation into claims of sexual harassment.

The school's board of trustees brought in a third party to investigate reports of sexual misconduct by the president with multiple adult members of the school community, including subordinate school employees. The chairman of the board confirmed in a statement that the investigation found the claims of "inappropriate and unwelcome verbal communications and physical conduct, all of a sexual nature," to be valid.

According to the chairman, the investigation confirmed that the sexual misconduct was unwelcome, and persisted even after the targets of the harassment specifically asked him to stop.

The board of trustees placed the man on administrative leave when they learned of the complaints and will now take steps to terminate him. Liam Stack "Head of Elite Catholic School Is Fired Over Sexual Misconduct Charges" nytimes.com (Apr. 12, 2021).

Commentary and Checklist

When harassment comes from top levels of an organization toward employees or volunteers, the target(s) of the harassment can be hesitant to report the misconduct. They often endure uncomfortable comments and conduct, and only file a complaint when the behavior becomes extremely egregious or when the relationship with the organization ends. Unfortunately, this hesitancy only serves to complicate efforts to stop the behavior and increase the liability risk.

Schools should encourage employees to come forward as soon as they experience uncomfortable conduct regardless of who is the accused perpetrator of the harassment.

View such reports as a valuable tool in harassment prevention. Addressing a small act of misconduct is less difficult than managing a serious harassment claim. Often simply reviewing conduct policies with the perpetrator and discussing how their actions are inappropriate is enough to put an end to the conduct.

Consider the following suggestions to encourage reporting and reduce the risk of sexual harassment claims:

  • Create a code of conduct for all employees, from top administrative leaders down to volunteers.
  • Communicate to employees that you "want to know" of misconduct as soon as it occurs and assure them they can disclose such incidents without reprisal.
  • Train all staff members on behavioral expectations, including examples of both appropriate and inappropriate conduct.
  • Provide multiple avenues through which staff members can report sexual misconduct and address all reports of misconduct no matter how minor.
  • Investigate reports in a prompt and consistent manner, treating all those involved with respect throughout the process. Employees are more likely to report misconduct if they know it will be investigated fairly.
  • Develop a disciplinary procedure that incorporates varying levels of disciplinary measures and apply those measures consistently regardless of the source of the harassment.
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