By Ted Gentry, attorney, Wyche P.A.
What: Wyche P.A. 2018 Ethics Roundtable — #YouToo: Legal Ethics and Responding to Sexual Harassment Reports in the Weinstein Era
When/Where: Feb. 20 at Studio 220, downtown Greenville
Who was there: Clients, colleagues, and friends of Wyche P.A.
Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Terry Richardson. All famous. All implicated in the recent focus on sexual misconduct.
#MeToo. A social media movement started in 2017 to highlight and encourage the reporting of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.
#YouToo. An event hosted by Wyche P.A. to educate business leaders and in-house counsel on preventing harassment and responding to harassment claims. The event was moderated by Meliah Bowers Jefferson, and presenters included Wade Kolb III of Wyche; Katie Deuben, SYNNEX Corp. senior director, corporate counsel; and Camden Navarro Massingill, also of Wyche.
According to Kolb, “As many as 75 percent of incidents never result in a complaint. Surprisingly to many, complaints by men have seen a steady rise, accounting for 16.5 percent of reports in 2017.” Kolb highlighted some common sexual harassment misconceptions:
- Harassment comes in many forms. Harassment can be verbal or nonverbal. It can be face-to-face or online. It can involve physical conduct or the display of images.
- Both men and women can be harassers or the victims of harassment.
- Harassment does not have to be repeated to be improper. A single incident can be enough if severe.
Kolb emphasized that employers must have policies and programs in place to inform their employees of prohibited conduct, and to give them a way to report that conduct if it occurs.
Responding to a report
When an employer receives a report of sexual misconduct, the employer must investigate swiftly and thoroughly. Massingill explained that when a report is received, “It’s essential to work with investigators to identify the most efficient and reliable way to gather relevant evidence.” She offered some other suggestions for conducting a workplace investigation:
- Promptly and thoroughly investigate every complaint; never hope the matter will just “go away.”
- Consult with legal counsel to plan the investigation and responses.
- Create a plan to analyze the claims.
- Remain fair to all sides.
After the presentations, Jefferson was joined for a wide-ranging, informal panel discussion among Shauna Galloway-Williams, executive director of the Julie Valentine Center, which works to stop sexual violence and child abuse; Ted Gentry of Wyche; Brian Murphy, an attorney with Stephenson and Murphy who primarily handles claims by employees; and Deuben. The panelists discussed topics such as the prevalence of harassment incidents, the impact of the #MeToo movement on societal and juror perceptions, the impacts of technology and social media on investigations, and interesting responses such as Vice President Mike Pence’s policy of never being alone in a social setting with a female employee or co-worker.
Panelists and attendees alike seemed to agree that the #MeToo movement has the potential to change the workplace. More victims may be emboldened to report misconduct. But there is reason to hope that the new climate of awareness will mean that there will be less misconduct to report.