Failure To Follow Termination Policies Greenlights Further Wrongdoing

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Government

The Portland City Council recently voted to approve a $250,000 settlement to resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a city employee.

The plaintiff, who previously worked as a Portland police officer, alleged that a male police officer subjected her to sexual harassment and intimidation. He allegedly made inappropriate comments to the female officer on multiple occasions.

According to her lawyer, the male officer "hit on her so aggressively that she went to Human Resources" where the female human resources manager she spoke with admitted, "I'm afraid of him, too."

The human resources manager allegedly said that all she could do was create a safety plan. The plaintiff's lawyer alleges that the Portland Police Department failed to take any action to follow the plan or to stop the sexual harassment.

With this latest settlement, the City of Portland has paid more than $800,000 to settle lawsuits concerning the male police officer. And, in 2014, the city paid more than $550,000 to settle a suit involving a man who was beaten by Portland police officers, including by the alleged sexual harasser.

The male officer resigned in 2016 following the first settlement, but was rehired immediately for a desk job, which was when the alleged sexual harassment occurred. The City of Portland stated that, as of Aug. 2020, the male officer no longer works for the city. Kellee Azar "City of Portland pays $250K in sexual harassment lawsuit settlement" katu.com (Jun. 23, 2021).

Commentary and Checklist

When an investigation determines an employee committed serious wrongdoing, employers must follow their disciplinary policy, which should permit terminations without rehiring of those who commit serious acts of sexual misconduct.

Making exceptions to a disciplinary policy greenlights the perpetrator to commit the wrongdoing or something similar again.

Of course, when wrongdoing is alleged, it is essential that you have an investigation and that the investigation process is prompt, thorough, and objective.

Here are some tips for investigations:

  • 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 to the parties involved 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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