The results of a sexual harassment internal investigation by the Michigan Senate’s human resource office concluded that Michigan State Senator Pete Lucido likely engaged in “inappropriate workplace behavior.” That is troubling. But, equally troubling is the response from the top Senate Leader.
The sexual harassment investigation and report.
The sexual harassment investigation was launched after a reporter complained about Senator Lucido making inappropriate comments about her. Specifically, reporter Allison Donahue explained while interviewing Lucido in front of about 30 teenage boys from an all-boys Catholic high school the Senator made inappropriate comments about her:
You should hang around! You could have a lot of fun with these boys, or they could have a lot of fun with you.
The teenagers then burst into laughter with the Senator.
This was not a locker room exchange; it happened outside the Michigan Senate chamber. And even if you are willing to accept a locker-room style excuse from your elected officials, this was an elected politician making what can be considered a gang-rape joke for an audience of teenage boys about a female reporter asking him questions about his involvement with a violent, anti-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Facebook group.
After Ms. Donahue came forward, two other women also came forward with sexual harassment complaints against the Senator. After investigating these complaints, the Senate Business Office concluded there was a “likelihood that Senator Lucido acted in the manner described by his accusers.”
Don’t Say Your Company Takes Sexual Harassment Seriously; Show it.
In response, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey stripped Senator Lucido of only one of his three chairmanships; He lost his chairmanship from the Advice and Consent Committee, but Crain’s Detroit (by Chad Livengood) reported that Lucido could keep his “chairmanship of the powerful Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.”
In a statement, Mr. Shirkey said: “We take accusations of inappropriate behavior in the workplace very seriously …” Really?
If Mr. Shirkey’s believed the report’s conclusions, if he believed Mr. Lucido harassed three women, believed such harassment warranted discipline, then why the partial response e.g., taking away only one of three chairmanships? Perhaps there is some political sliding-scale: three sexually harassed women equal losing one of three chairmanships?
Employees Deserve Meaningful Responses to Sexual Harassment; Juries Expect it.
Change the facts ever so slightly. Instead of an elected politician making jokes about the “fun” 30 teenage boys could have with a female reporter, imagine it was your senior manager, or your CFO, or a vice-president. And imagine that person telling a female employee her male co-workers could have a lot of fun with her in the conference room. Would you take away the offender’s job title, maybe remove some job responsibilities, call it a day, declare lesson-learned, and move on?
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The #MeToo movement and abhorrent conduct by executives and other high-profile incidents of sexual harassment have given heightened attention to such harassment. And this environment has raised the stakes for employers to get out in front of this issue and to responsibly address sexual harassment concerns.
But it is not enough for an organization – at least outside of Michigan politics – to just point to workplace anti-sexual harassment policies and give statements that violations are not acceptable and call it a day.
Your company’s response to sexual harassment should fit the circumstances. However, the response should demonstrate your company’s commitment to creating a safe, professional, harassment-free workplace. And when a complaint is investigated and substantiated, half (or with Senator Lucido losing one of three chairmanships) 1/3 efforts to discipline harassers will often fall woefully short of the meaningful response employees deserve and juries expect. This is evident from the number of high-profile verdicts and CEO terminations over the last year.
Use this link to contact Michigan attorney Jason Shinn if you have questions about this article, or complying with Michigan or federal employment laws or litigating claims under both. Since 2001, Mr. Shinn has represented companies and individuals in employment discrimination claims under federal and Michigan employment laws.