June 2021 Coach's Quiz
We’ve explained why it’s so important to investigate sexual harassment complaints involving tenants. We’ve also pointed out the 10 pitfalls that can cause an investigation to go awry and how to navigate around them. Now it’s your turn to see how well you’ve learned the lesson. Take the Coach’s Quiz below to see if you can apply the analysis and specific principles to real-life situations. Each question has one and only one correct answer. On a separate piece of paper, write down the number of each question, and list the letter corresponding to the answer you believe is correct—for example, (1) b, (2) a, and so on. The correct answers (with explanations) follow the quiz. Good luck!
A tenant accuses one of your maintenance technicians of groping her buttocks and breasts on several occasions. You take the report seriously and designate the building maintenance manager to investigate. He interviews the tenant, technician, and a neighbor who claims to have witnessed the technician grope another tenant. He then draws up a thorough report concluding that the accusations are false and that the tenant wasn’t sexually harassed. As a result, you drop the case and don’t discipline the technician. You also notify the tenant of your determination that the accusations were untrue. What did you do wrong?
a. Trust the maintenance manager to investigate.
b. Allow the manager to interview the neighbor as part of the investigation.
c. Notify the tenant of your determination.
d. Not initiate disciplinary action against the technician.
e. All of the above.
Which of the following is NOT a leading question?
a. Did you see the property manager sexually harass the tenant?
b. Did you hear the property manager tell the tenant an offensive sexual joke?
c. Did you see the property manager behave inappropriately with the tenant?
d. What did you see the property manager do when he was with the tenant?
COACH’S ANSWERS & EXPLANATIONS
Correct answer: a
Reason: This situation involves three potential sexual harassment investigation pitfalls:
Pitfall #2: Using Investigator Who Isn’t Objective
Pitfall #5: Not Interviewing Third Parties
Pitfall #9: Not Following Up on Investigation Report
The landlord in this case fell victim to only one of these pitfalls, but it was enough of a SNAFU to undermine the integrity of the entire investigation. Where the landlord went wrong was in designating a non-objective person to investigate the complaint. The reason the manager isn’t objective is that he’s the boss of the accused, the maintenance technician. He therefore has a personal stake in the case. After all, if the technician committed harassment, it might reflect negatively on him. The relationship between the investigator and accused could also distort things in the other direction. Thus, the manager might be pre-inclined to conclude that the technician did commit harassment if he doesn’t like the technician and wants to get rid of him. Either way, the manager’s report is of dubious reliability. Thus, a. is the right answer.
Wrong answers explained:
b. The manager was 100 percent right to interview the neighbor. The pitfall isn’t in interviewing third-party witnesses who may have relevant information about the case but in failing to do so. So, b. is the wrong answer.
c. This is the wrong answer because landlords should notify both the accuser and accused of the results of the harassment investigation. This is true even when a landlord concludes that a tenant’s harassment complaint lacks merit.
d. This choice doesn’t work, but it’s the second best response and you shouldn’t feel too bad if it was your choice. The takeaway is that the findings of the internal investigation determine whether landlords have a justifiable case for disciplining building staff for sexually harassing a tenant. In this case, the report concluded that the technician didn’t commit harassment. The problem, of course, is that the investigator’s lack of objectivity makes the report untrustworthy. But assuming the report is false and proceeding to discipline the technician wouldn’t be the appropriate response. What the landlord should do in this situation is redo the investigation with an objective person at the helm and then determine whether discipline is in order on the basis of the investigator’s findings.
Correct answer: d
Reason: This situation illustrates an important pitfall to avoid when investigating a sexual harassment complaint:
Pitfall #6: Asking Leading Questions
Witness interviews are typically the most crucial part of a sexual harassment investigation. The integrity and reliability of the information that witnesses provide depends not just on what questions investigators ask the witnesses but how they phrase those questions. Whether deliberate or inadvertent, interviews can go awry when investigators ask “leading questions”—that is, questions phrased to set up the witness to respond in a certain way.
Choices a., b. and c. are all examples of leading questions. By contrast, the question “What did you see the property manager do when he was with the tenant,” is phrased in a neutral, open-ended way that enables the witness to describe what he actually saw in his own words without having to draw a conclusion or offer a personal opinion about the appropriateness of the manager’s behavior and whether it constituted harassment. And in providing just the facts, these answers pave the way for an objective determination of whether the behavior crossed the line. Thus, d. is the correct answer.
Wrong answers explained:
a. The statement that “X person committed sexual harassment” is a legal conclusion based on X’s behavior. The reason a. is a leading question is that it invites the witness to offer an opinion instead of furnishing the facts about the manager’s conduct on which that conclusion should be based.
b. This is also a leading question, only this time the witness is being led to confirm that the manager engaged in behavior that potentially constitutes sexual harassment—that is, telling unwelcome sexual jokes.
c. This is a leading question because it elicits a subjective conclusion—that is, whether the manager engaged in “inappropriate behavior.”
See The Lesson For This Quiz
|10 Pitfalls to Avoid When Responding to a Sexual Harassment Complaint|