Be Fair to Men Accused of Sexual Harassment, Court Rules

Be Fair to Men Accused of Sexual Harassment, Court Rules

In the #MeToo environment, good employers are committed to giving fair hearings to victims of sexual harassment. But a court decision makes clear that fairness works both ways—the accused must be given a fair hearing as well.

Jeffrey Menaker worked at Hofstra University as its Director of Tennis and Head Coach of both its men’s and women’s varsity tennis teams. A woman tennis player told Menaker that his predecessor had approved her for a scholarship. Menaker checked, could find no record of it, did not have funds budgeted, and denied the scholarship. Thereafter, the woman hired an attorney who wrote a letter to the university complaining that Menaker had sexually harassed her.

The university’s attorney called Menaker into a meeting and showed him the letter. He denied all the allegations. His manager, the VP and Director of Athletics, who was also in the meeting, lied about one allegation he knew for a fact was untrue. The attorney said she would get back to Menaker.

Sexual Harassment Policy Required a Fair Investigation

The university policy required an investigation, that the investigator interview potential witnesses, and that accused parties have the right to submit a written response. It also required the investigator to produce a written determination of reasonable cause. Menaker gave the university names of his witnesses, but the university did not interview any of Menaker’s witnesses. The university also did not formally interview him, did not request a written response from him, and did not produce a written report. However, the university terminated Menaker, not for sexual harassment but for “unprofessional conduct.”

Menaker sued the university for discrimination, alleging that he was denied a fair hearing because of his sex. The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York ordered the case to go to trial.

Sexual Harassment Investigation Must Be Fair to the Accused

A respectful workplace cannot be created if anyone is treated with disrespect. A fair hearing is fair only if everyone is heard. As we say in the law, “No matter how thin the pancake, there are always two sides.”

Our programs on sexual harassment prevention and creating respectful workspaces include discussion on conducting fair investigations.

By R. Makana Risser Chai

Makana Risser Chai is a trainer, HR consultant and former Silicon Valley attorney who specializes in teaching courses on creating respectful workplaces by preventing harassment, bullying, disrespect, and unconscious bias.