In the last two years, “I believe women” has become a frequent comment in discussions about sexual harassment and sexual violence. It’s an important one, given the negative experience that many women have had when trying to report sexual abuse, including low conviction rates for perpetrators and a feeling that their stories were not heard.
Recently, I was on an airplane returning to Toronto from Sudbury. Apart from what I’m about to tell you, the flight was unremarkable. Friendly flight attendants served a selection of drinks and snacks. The flight jostled us across the sky with its typical turbulence. I sipped some wine, lamented how few pretzels there are in one bag, and caught up on the news at the end of a long day.
My tired eyes rested on the screen of an open laptop just ahead of me. What I saw was the title page of a workplace investigation report, which listed the names of the parties and the employer.
There is no question that workplace investigations are disruptive and difficult for the parties involved. Sometimes parties are removed from the workplace or their duties are modified. Complainants and respondents are often concerned about damage to their reputations and their careers once it is known that a complaint has been made, and that an investigation is being conducted.
An employee complained that she had been sexually harassed by her male supervisor. The employer conducted an internal investigation and concluded that the sexual encounter had been consensual, and therefore sexual harassment had not occurred. The complainant was fired for making a bad faith complaint. An arbitrator came to the opposite conclusion. He found that the complainant had, in fact, been subjected to sexual harassment and sexual assault. He reinstated her job and ordered compensation for lost wages and benefits.