When it comes to sexual harassment allegations, some entities are on the forefront of industry “best practices” by promptly hiring independent investigation firms, while others are faced with the consequences of failing to do so.[1]

The University of Rochester (UR) is under fire for allegedly mishandling several students’ claims of sexual harassment and retaliation concerning a renowned professor, T. Florian Jaeger.[2] Students at the university have gone to extreme measures to protest the school’s response – or lack thereof – to numerous students’ claims involving Jaeger. Some students staged sit-ins during classes, targeting classrooms near Jaeger, while others protested the UR President’s office, and one student pledged a hunger strike.[3] In response to these protests and 14 students filing an EEOC complaint, UR announced on September 19 that the UR Board of Trustees appointed a committee to “oversee an independent, comprehensive investigation” for the sexual harassment and retaliation allegations in the EEOC complaint.[4] The committee hired Mary Jo White, former federal prosecutor and Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, as the third-party investigator.

UR appears to now appreciate the importance of conflict free investigators for public scandals, but the university would arguably have been better situated had they appointed an independent investigator at the outset of the sexual harassment allegations.  As Jon Allard, head of Kurowski Shultz LLC’s Investigations and Compliance Practice Group, noted in a recent story covering the matter, “The later that outside counsel is brought in, it does become more difficult.”[5] Stressing the importance of promptness in these intricate investigations, Allard continued, “Lawsuits have been filed. Attorneys may not want you to talk to their clients. You may have to rely on other statements that have been taken during other parts of the investigation.” While bringing in an independent investigator at any time is generally the best practice, hiring one too late could have lasting implications, from the creation of evidentiary issues to bad press leading up to the appointment of the investigator.

For further information regarding the Kurowski Shultz Investigations and Compliance Practice Group please contact Jon Allard, Practice Head at jallard@kurowskishultz.com

 

[1] http://www.kslfllc.com/blog/uber-hires-third-party-investigation-team-amid-claims-sexual-harassment/

[2] http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/tech/nation-now/2017/10/01/university-rochester-sex-scandal/720144001/

[3]http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2017/09/university_of_rochester_professor_s_alleged_sexual_harassment_of_students.html

[4] http://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/message-from-university-of-rochester-board-of-trustees-269602/

[5] http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2017/10/07/ur-investigation-running-night-and-day-but-lawsuit-expected-thanksgiving/733173001/