“If these allegations are true” has been the most hotly debated qualifier used by politicians recently in reaction to all of the sexual misconduct accusations in the news.
While many politicians use the phrase out of cowardice to avoid taking an actual stand on an important issue, there is an underlying point: it is a necessity to determine credibility when someone has been accused of sexual misconduct.
Having conducted sexual harassment investigations many times during the last 25 years, I’ve often been required to determine if a victim is telling the truth or whether the accused is believable. Juries have to do the same thing.
Even if the case never goes to trial, employers have to make decisions about the right steps to take when a man (and yes, it is almost always a man) is accused of being sexually inappropriate in the workplace. The company looks to me for guidance on that decision if I am conducting the investigation or if I’m defending the employer when a claim of sexual harassment has been brought.
The first step in determining “if true” is to believe the accuser. I know that irks some people, but I have experienced too many situations where the boss’s first reaction is to tell the victim, “Don’t worry about him, Honey. That’s just the way he is. It doesn’t mean anything.”
That is an actual quote from a sexual harassment case that I handled, but I have heard variations of that speech dozens of times in my legal career. If that is the employer’s attitude, the company has already made a credibility determination without investigation—the woman is unworthy of being taken seriously after she got up the courage to complain.
Remember that believing the victim is only the first step in the process, not the end of it. That step should be followed by a prompt, fair and thorough investigation conducted by someone who does not have a horse in the race.
A sexual harassment investigation should involve interviewing the victim, any witnesses and the accused, and also reviewing documents, policies and other proof, which usually includes pictures, emails, texts, phone records, internet searches, calendars, greeting cards, and recordings.
When I am doing an investigation, I have to make a judgment about whether each witness is believable. So, my questions don’t just center on the alleged events, but also on motivations, timing, relationships and track records.
Here’s what I look at in determining whether the person I am talking to is believable: Continue reading “If True”: How to Assess Credibility in Sexual Harassment Investigations