harassment

Accusations and Investigations

This is a post that I really didn’t want to write, but now I feel I have to.

It’s a very difficult time in my sport of figure skating. In mid-December, an allegation of misconduct involving a skating coach was filed with the US Centre for SafeSport. SafeSport is an independent regulatory organization, funded by sport federations; its mandate includes training, education, and outreach, but it is also responsible for investigating complaints of sexual misconduct against athletes in Olympic and Paralympic sports. SafeSport can’t charge someone with a crime – although it does require any reports of criminal acts to also be reported to police – but if it believes, after an investigation, that the allegations are accurate, there are several types of penalties it can impose, including banning the abuser from the sport.

The allegation filed with SafeSport involved John Coughlin, a coach, broadcast commentator, and two-time US champion in pairs skating. As a result of the allegation, SafeSport temporarily restricted Coughlin’s “ability to participate in the sport”. In early January, according to USA Today reporter Christine Brennan, two more allegations against Coughlin were filed with SafeSport, and on January 17, SafeSport imposed an interim suspension on Coughlin. An interim suspension, according to SafeSport’s definitions, means that the “covered individual” (the subject of the allegations) cannot “participate in any activity or competition” authorized by or sanctioned by the US Olympic Committee or the sport’s governing body, “pending final resolution of the matter”. On January 18, Coughlin took his own life.

This very sad series of events has led to a lot of discussion about norms and cultures within the sport of skating, the rights of the accuser and the accused during investigations of alleged abuse, and the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the processes that are supposed to protect athletes. After Coughlin passed away, the US Figure Skating Association, the Olympic-affiliated US governing body for skating, asked SafeSport to continue with its investigation of the three allegations. SafeSport subsequently announced that while it does not comment on individual cases, it “cannot advance an investigation when no potential threat exists” and ended its investigation. While I can understand why SafeSport made that choice – I’ll explain why in a while – abandoning the investigation may simply (more…)

Conferences and Codes of Conduct

Nearly every organization has a code of conduct for its employees. These codes are usually explicit rules about what the organization’s members are and aren’t allowed to do, including the penalties – from reprimands to firing – for breaking those rules. Often there are also statements of the organization’s guiding values and principles, which employees are expected to uphold in carrying out their work or making decisions. But when employees go to professional events like conferences – events related to work but which take place outside the workplace – the rules of behaviour aren’t always as clear.

Behaviour at conferences is something that I’ve been thinking about as conference season is starting for me. Every year, away from the watchful eyes of their supervisors and their human resources department, some people act like idiots. They might do things like ask questions during a seminar or presentation with the sole intention of making the presenter look bad and making themselves look good. Or they might harass other conference attendees, usually at social events, by doing things like looking down women’s tops, making inappropriate comments about how someone is dressed, or uttering racist or sexist insults (I’ve personally witnessed all of these).

Surprisingly, though, many conference organizers are reluctant to crack down on these kinds of behaviours by attendees. (more…)

When Sexism Maybe Isn’t Sexism

Earlier this year, the University of Alberta announced that former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell had been appointed “founding principal”  of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College. In an article about her leadership style, for the University’s alumni magazine, Campbell wrote,

When women led in [an] interactive style, it was not recognized as leadership and they did not get credit for it. Men, meanwhile, were being trained to be interactive leaders and were rewarded for their ability to manage in this new way….it was clear that I had an interactive style of leadership. It had been the key to my success in passing contentious legislation as Canada’s minister of justice and attorney general from 1990 to 1993….This approach enabled me to pass a record amount of legislation when I was in the justice portfolio, but I was sometimes perplexed at the lengths journalists would go to to avoid giving me credit for these efforts….Journalists did not recognize my leadership as such because I was not making the noises they associated with leading.

Campbell didn’t provide any specific examples of where or how journalists had allegedly downplayed her achievements because of her gender.

More recently, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark alleged (more…)

Union Grievance Procedures and the Jian Ghomeshi Story

Just over three weeks ago, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) fired Jian Ghomeshi, the host of its radio show Q. The CBC stated that the reason for the firing was “information” that “preclud[ed]” it from continuing to employ him. Since then, a number of women have come forward with allegation that Ghomeshi physically attacked them while they were dating him. Three of these allegations are being investigated by the Toronto police. Ghomeshi is suing the CBC for $55 million for allegedly dismissing him on the basis of a “moral judgement” about his sex life. He also announced on Facebook that he would also be filing a grievance for reinstatement.

A big part of the discussion of this story is about Ghomeshi’s workplace behaviour – since one of the first allegations of abusive behaviour was from another CBC employee – and whether the CBC adequately fulfilled its responsibility as an employer to provide a safe, harassment-free work environment. However, there is a major difference between Ghomeshi’s employment situation and the employment situations of many other high-profile media personalities in Canada and elsewhere. Ghomeshi is a union member – and that means that his situation will likely be managed differently than if he wasn’t part of a union.

Some commentators on the Ghomeshi story – particularly those from outside Canada – apparently don’t understand how grievances work in unionized workplaces in Canada, how a grievance might relate to Ghomeshi’s lawsuit, or the responsibility of his union in representing him. I think it’s important to be clear on those issues, (more…)

Anita Hill, Two Decades Later

Last week, Anita Hill appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  She was there to promote a new documentary about her experiences in 1991, when she testified to a US Senate committee that she had been sexually harassed at work by Clarence Thomas, at the time a nominee for the position of US Supreme Court Justice. (Stewart’s interview with Hill is here for American viewers; Canadian viewers can see it here.)

In her interview with Stewart, Hill explained that she got involved in the documentary to help educate younger workers about why sexual harassment is still (more…)