Department Heads' Resources
Brian Niehoff, Coordinator
202 Anderson Hall
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506

 

785-532-4797
785-532-6507 fax
niehoff@k-state.edu

Resolution of Sexual Harassment Complaints

The Process
Some Points to Remember
1. Report the complaint to the University administrator responsible for the department or other unit in which the harassment is believed to have occurred (henceforth referred to as the responsible administrator), unless that person is already aware of the behavior that is the subject of the complaint. In some cases there may be more than one responsible administrator. For students with complaints of harassment by other students, the Dean of Students may be regarded as the responsible administrator.

or

Report the complaint to the Office of Affirmative Action or the Dean of Students Office.

1. While it is tempting to do so, at this point, do not conduct an extensive interview. The preferred approach is to get some basic information about the complaint. Getting all the details at this point means the person will have to repeat them again to a representative of the Office of Affirmative Action.

Three points to remember: (1) Take all reports seriously. (2) Don't make assumptions about motives or attempt to characterize or dismiss the alleged behavior. (3) Confer with the Office of Affirmative Action on reports involving behavior with inappropriate sexual content, disparagement of members of one sex or possible reprisal for reporting or objecting to inappropriate behavior.

 

  • Inform the person that you will confer with the Office of Affirmative. Contact the Office of Affirmative Action.
  • Assure the person that the complaint will be taken seriously and will be handled as confidentially and quickly as possible.
  • Provide the person a copy of the Policy, and answer any questions you are able to answer.
  • Arrange to meet with the person and the Office of Affirmative Action as soon as possible.

If the person presents a written complaint, accept it, ask her or him for some basic information, then arrange for the two of you to meet with the Office of Affirmative Action.

2. If a complaint is made to the responsible administrator, that individual will confer with the appropriate Affirmative Action Office staff member concerning the resolution of the complaint. Likewise, should the complaint be made to the Affirmative Action Office, the staff member will confer with the responsible administrator. If the substance of the complaint warrants further review, both administrators, acting together, review the complaint following the process outlined in sections 3-10. If a complaint is made to the Dean of Students Office, a staff member will contact the Affirmative Action Office. 2. Discuss the report with the Affirmative Action Office.

Substance means the reported behavior is sufficient to raise a hostile environment or quid pro quo claim. The basis issue is whether a reasonable person would want to make further inquiries to determine whether harassment has occurred. Generally, further review is warranted when it is alleged that:

 

  • The alleged conduct was of a sexual nature, unwelcome, severe, persistent or pervasive;
  • A decision has been affected by acceptance or rejection of sexual attentions; or
  • There has been a pattern of verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature or which disparages members of one sex; or
  • Retaliation [some adverse action] has occurred subsequent to reporting or objecting to inappropriate behavior.

Decide on a course of action.

3. The Affirmative Action Office staff member and the responsible administrator will conduct an interview with the complainant to acquire a thorough understanding of the complaint. The complainant will submit a written statement or the responsible administrator and the Affirmative Action Office staff member will draft a written statement of the complaint. The complainant will be asked to read the written statement and revisions will be made as necessary until the complainant is satisfied that the written statement accurately reflects the complaint made. The complainant will then be asked to sign a (separate) statement acknowledging agreement with the written complaint, but is under no obligation to do so. 3. As with any sensitive-and emotional-interpersonal issue, tact, objectivity and earnestness are important to the success of the interview.

 

  • Try to put the person at ease.
  • Take detailed notes.
  • Obtain detailed information about the alleged behavior and its affect on the complainant
  • Review allegations for consistency.
  • Emphasize the need for confidentiality.
  • Obtain the identity of any witnesses.
  • Ask for signed statement, but explain it is not required.

Begin to assess the credibility of the complainant and need for corroboration of certain allegations.

 

  • Check statements for consistency or inconsistencies.
  • Assess demeanor and motivation to be truthful versus untruthful.
  • Consider others who can give credence to allegations.
4. With or without a signed statement, the Affirmative Action Office staff member and the responsible administrator will determine whether the complaint, as reported, alleges sexual harassment in violation of the Kansas State University Policy Prohibiting Sexual Harassment. If, so, the responsible administrator will then inform the respondent of the complaint. 4. Sexual harassment is defined in two contexts: hostile environment and quid pro quo. Study the allegations and decide whether they describe behavior which, if true, included inappropriate sexual content or disparagement of members of one sex that reportedly interfered with an individual's work or learning environment.

In quid pro quo cases, a single sexual advance may constitute harassment if it is linked to work or learning. In contrast, unless the conduct is quite severe, a single incident or isolated incidents of offensive sexual conduct or remarks generally do not create a "hostile environment." A hostile environment claim usually requires showing a pattern of offensive conduct. However, the more severe the incident, the less need to show a repetitive series of incidents.

Close the complaint and inform the complainant if the allegations, even if true, would not constitute sexual harassment. Explain the right to appeal the decision.

Continue to review the complaint when there is credible information that:

 

  • The alleged conduct was of a sexual nature, unwelcome, severe, persistent or pervasive;
  • A decision may be or has been affected by acceptance or rejection of sexual attentions;
  • There has been a pattern of verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature or which disparages members of one sex; or
  • Retaliation [some adverse action] has occurred subsequent to reporting or objecting to inappropriate behavior.
5. A meeting will be scheduled for the respondent to meet with the Affirmative Action Office staff member and the responsible administrator. At that meeting, the respondent will receive both a verbal explanation and the written statement of the complaint. Appendix J procedures also will be reviewed. The respondent will have access to relevant information pertaining to the complaint and will be given the opportunity to respond, but is under no obligation to respond immediately. The respondent also will be cautioned against retaliation. Future meeting may be scheduled to allow the respondent the opportunity to reflect. 5. The interview with the respondent must be handled carefully. As with the complainant, getting accurate and complete response to the allegations is critical. Some points to keep in mind:

 

  • Explain the purpose of the meeting.
  • Review the policy and provide a copy of the policy
  • Describe the role of the review team and the process of the review.
  • Review the allegations in the complaint.
  • Ask for specific responses to each allegation.
  • Take careful notes.
  • Advise the respondent about confidentiality and the prohibition against retaliation.
  • Invite the respondent to present witnesses or other evidence.
  • Schedule future meeting, if necessary.

    Do not accuse the respondent; make any promises concerning the review or any action, if any, to follow; discuss whether you will interview anyone else or reveal who they might be; discuss the merits of the complaint or action, if any, to be taken; or comment that a conclusion has been reached.

6. If the respondent responds to the complaint, the responsible administrator and the Affirmative Action Office staff member will draft a written statement of the respondent's response. The respondent will be asked to read the written statement, and revisions will be made as necessary until the respondent is satisfied the written statement accurately reflects the response made. The respondent will then be asked to sign a (separate) statement acknowledging agreement with the written response, but is under no obligation to do so. 6. Evaluate the response, then decide to close the complaint or continue the review. Consider whether:

 

  • The alleged conduct was of a sexual nature, unwelcome, severe, persistent or pervasive;
  • A decision may be or has been affected by acceptance or rejection of sexual attentions;
  • There has been a pattern of verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature or which disparages members of one sex; or
  • Retaliation [some adverse action] has occurred subsequent to reporting or objecting to inappropriate behavior.

Begin to assess the credibility of the respondent.

7. With or without a response from the respondent, the Affirmative Action Office staff member and the responsible administrator may interview other persons who have specific knowledge about alleged incident(s). 7. If no response is made within a reasonable period, begin to interview witnesses.

Some conduct may occur in the presence of witnesses and appear to be consensual. Witnesses and their credibility may be critical to the resolution of complaints. When talking to witnesses:

 

  • Focus on what witnesses heard or saw, not on their assumptions or opinions.
  • Stress the need for confidentiality.
  • Explain the prohibition against retaliation.
  • Look for consistency or inconsistencies with other accounts.
  • Assess each witness's credibility.
8, 9, 10. A determination will be made, after completion of all interviews, as to whether a violation of the Policy Prohibiting Sexual Harassment has occurred and appropriate remedies, sanctions or has not occurred. 8, 9, 10. The review must end with either of three possible determinations:

 

  1. sexual harassment did not occur;
  2. sexual harassment occurred; or
  3. sufficient information cannot be obtained to make a determination about the alleged conduct.

In reaching a conclusion, weigh and evaluate the evidence, including the credibility of witnesses. In he-said, she-said situations in which accounts differ markedly and there were no witnesses, making a decision based on credibility is critical.

Consider welcomeness, severity, persistence or pervasiveness of the confirmed conduct:

Conduct is unwelcome when the person did not solicit or incite it and regarded the conduct as undesirable or offensive.

Conduct is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive when it has the purpose or effect of interfering with the work or learning environment, limiting ability to participate in or benefit from a course, program, service or activity.

The more severe the conduct, the ness the need to show a repetitive series of incidents; this is particularly true if the harassment is physical--e.g. attempts to grab or fondle breasts, genital area or buttocks.

Sanctions should be based on the seriousness of the conduct, and should be adequate and sufficient to demonstrate the University's commitment to prevent and remedy sexual harassment. Appropriate sanctions may range from a warning up to and including dismissal or expulsion.

Remedies should be designed to correct the effects of sexual harassment.

Write a Clear, Concise and Objective Report of Findings: Present the information in a tone that does not unnecessarily generate defensiveness and opposition. All factual data and findings in reports must be sufficient and adequately by enough objective evidence in the file to persuade the readers of the importance of the findings, the reasonableness of the conclusions and the desirability of the readers accepting any recommendations. Each report should be organized so that the all the investigators have to say on an issue is covered in one place. Reports must be no longer than necessary to communicate the information the investigators seek to convey. Conclusions should be stated rather than left for the readers to infer.