Recently, a sexual harassment case involving a Chicago professor became high profile in the news. While you can view the case from the perspective of the victim and the alleged abuser, there is also the viewpoint of educational institutions to consider. What preventative actions can they take to protect themselves against lawsuits?
The New York Times reported that a well-known molecular biologist, who was a professor at the University of Chicago resigned after the university recommended he be fired. The administration based the termination recommendation on violations of the college’s sexual misconduct policy. Professor Jason Lieb allegedly made unwanted sexual advances toward several female graduate students during an off campus retreat attended by graduate students and several faculty members. As a result of the allegations, Lieb resigned.
An incident of sexual misconduct also arose when Lieb worked at the University of North Carolina. However, an investigation at that time revealed no evidence to support the claim. When Lieb left the University of North Carolina and Princeton interviewed him for a position, Lieb gave permission for Princeton staff to examine his UNC personnel file. The University of Chicago also examined his UNC personnel file and found no evidence that proved him guilty of the allegation. Consequently, the Chicago department of human genetics voted unanimously to hire him. Weighing the responsibility to protect sexual harassment victims versus false sexual harassment allegations can be difficult.
Obviously, background checks are vital for educational institutions when hiring personnel. Also, these types of incidents bring up questions about whether the standards universities currently use to evaluate candidates during the hiring process are adequate.
At Stephen Hans & Associates, we work with businesses and institutions to help you put policies in place that protect you against sexual harassment and other discrimination liability.