Impartial Third-Party Investigators: Important For Discovering Truth And Limiting Risk

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Not-For-Profits Organizations

An employee, terminated from an Illinois nonprofit after complaining about sexual harassment, filed a lawsuit against the organization, alleging the employer retaliated against him. The lawsuit names the nonprofit as well as its former chief executive officer and three members of its board of directors as defendants.

The plaintiff had worked as the director of programs and services at the nonprofit, which serves individuals with intellectual disabilities. According to the allegations contained in the lawsuit, the nonprofit's chief executive officer subjected several employees, including the plaintiff, to sexual harassment, including "sexual advances." Reports were allegedly made to several directors at the nonprofit, one of whom told the chief executive officer before launching an investigation.

The plaintiff alleges the chief executive officer retaliated against him by "stripping his job duties, demoting him, and making him move to a different job location." The nonprofit selected a former associate judge, who was also the vice president of the board of directors for the nonprofit, to conduct the investigation. The plaintiff claims this made the investigator "far from an independent investigator."

The plaintiff said he met with the investigator, despite his misgivings, on July 12, 2021. He had filed a discrimination charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) several days earlier.

The plaintiff alleges that the investigator "had no interest in discussing or addressing" his sexual harassment and retaliation allegations, but rather used the interview to try to build a misconduct case against him and his direct supervisor.

Less than three weeks after the interview, the nonprofit terminated the plaintiff. The chief executive officer resigned the following day.

The plaintiff has requested a jury trial and is seeking reinstatement to his job, damages, and attorney's fees. Patrick Keck "Former employee files sexual harassment lawsuit against Springfield nonprofit" www.sj-r.com (Oct. 04, 2022).

Commentary and Checklist

Impartial investigators are crucial for mitigating liability from wrongdoing, like sexual harassment. Search for top-rated investigators who can prepare a written report of the facts discovered.

Your investigation will hopefully uncover facts that will help address the charge, but also bolster your defense to harassment and retaliation claims. 

Here are some additional tips:

  • Clearly define the investigator's role. Consider using a third party to manage investigations, especially for high-risk matters.
  • Select a trained investigator. Make sure the investigator will be objective, calm, courteous, and professional.
  • Conduct a thorough investigation of the alleged wrongdoing to avoid critical information or facts coming to light after the investigation is completed.
  • Manage the investigation with discretion, but do not promise confidentiality because certain disclosures may need to be made to complete the investigation.
  • Document all interviews and subsequent actions. Notes from all interviews should be recorded at the time or shortly after the interview and reviewed with the interviewee for accuracy.
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