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Keep an open mind in investigations; juries will punish ‘kangaroo courts’

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Keep an open mind in investigations; juries will punish 'kangaroo courts'

When investigating a sexual harassment complaint, don't rush to judgment, and don't allow supervisors to sidestep any steps in the process, even if the outcome seems obvious.

Your goal is to discover the truth through an honest and thorough fact-finding mission with equal weight given to each party involved. Courts will come down hard on organizations that try to whitewash corroborating evidence or misrepresent their findings.

In the following case, a jury was upset as much about the company's "sham" investigation as it was about the conduct of a manager who harassed a much-younger employee ... and the company paid the price.

Recent case: A marketing coordinator filed an internal complaint, claiming her supervisor repeatedly subjected her to verbal and physical harassment, including sexual advances, requests for dates, inappropriate comments and hugs.

But the company shrugged off her complaint and concluded that no sexual harassment occurred because co-workers didn't corroborate her allegations.

The problem: The company didn't conduct a full investigation. It interviewed only select witnesses and drew a premature conclusion that the supervisor simply used an inappropriate management style.

The employee sued, and a jury awarded her $15 million in punitive damages, $43,000 in lost pay and $100,000 in compensatory damages. The big bombshell: Evidence showed that, in fact, some witnesses actually backed up the woman's claims, even though the company told her she was flying solo. (Nestler v. Chartwell Dining Services, No. 02-CV-1115, N.D.N.Y., 2004)

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