High Profile Sexual Harassment: Outsiders must Investigate

October 3, 2007

Yesterday’s $11.6 million jury verdict in the Isiah Thomas/New York Knicks sexual harassment case is generating tremendous blog commentary. Here’s what some are saying about the Knicks’ lawsuit and its “Wake-Up Call” potential:

Kris Dunn at HR Capitalist has a post on Fire, Suspend or Play On?… Isiah Thomas Trial Verdict…. Since the start of the trial, Kris has been soliciting opinions on how the Knicks should address Mr. Thomas’ employment. Now that the verdict is in, it is easier to address his employment and many sports analysts are calling for his termination.

Rush Nigut at Rush on Business has a post on Could the Knicks Have Avoided Sexual Harassment Claims? Rush gives some good advice on avoiding sexual harassment claims in the context of Knicks approach to the sexual harassment claim.

Daniel A. Schwartz at Connecticut Employment Law Blog has a post on Sexual Harassment Prevention Checkup – The Basics of Training and Posting Dan highlights the importance of supervisor training.

Michael Fox at Jottings by and Employer’s Lawyer has a post Isn’t It Time for Basketball Yet?. Michael analyzes the jury’s deliberations.

What I take away from this case is that the investigation was botched because a high level executive used his power to derail or dissuade the company from doing an adequate investigation. When a company’s executives or board members stand accused of harassment, the investigation needs to be done by outside experts. Only an experienced outsider can effectively accomplish what needs to be done to protect the company and manage the whole situation including the following:

  • Taking company management out of the hot seat by planning and conducting an appropriate, unbiased, and comprehensive investigation.
  • Squelching the accused executive’s ability to influence, obfuscate, or bully the investigator.
  • Asking all the hard questions of both the accuser and the accused without fear of reprisal. (You might lose a client, but that’s part of deal).
  • Mitigating the emotion involved in accusations of misconduct to avoid really bad reactionary decisions. (Like firing the accuser or accused before conducting an investigation).
  • Preserving relationships among and between executives and the board by adding independence to the conclusions of the investigation.
  • Advising the decision makers (typically the board of directors) on the import of the facts, necessity of confidentiality, appropriateness of prompt remedial action, and prohibition on retaliation.