- A former administrative assistant for global law firm DLA Piper has filed charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming that she was let go from the powerhouse law firm because a senior partner found her to be "too old or not attractive enough." Andrea Ivan says in a statement to the EEOC that Louis Lehot, the senior partner, wanted her gone and that "she had no idea that Lehot would fire a senior HR manager because she spoke out on my behalf."
- The law firm is facing accusations of discrimination and harassment by three women. Vanina Guerrero, an attorney with the firm who reportedly has been placed on administrative leave, first filed a charge with the EEOC in October, claiming that shortly after she was hired, she was sexually assaulted by Lehot several times during business trips. Ivan says in her statement that a former HR manager "was fired because she tried to protect me from Lehot."
- Lehot is no longer with the firm, Law.com has reported and has denied the allegations. DLA Piper said it disagreed with the charge, according to a report in the ABA Journal.
The #MeToo movement continues to highlight the issue of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace. As a result, it is more important than ever for employers to create and maintain a culture of respect and to establish and consistently follow procedures for reporting and investigating complaints.
While HR acting by itself cannot change an organization's culture, it can be instrumental in creating and enforcing appropriate policies, providing training and promptly investigating all complaints. If buy-in from corporate higher ups is lacking, HR can also demonstrate to senior management that abusive behaviors have steep human and financial costs.
A robust reporting system can ensure that bullying and harassment is properly brought before HR. Experts suggest that all reports be investigated, even if the allegations appear to be minor.
When HR receives a complaint alleging harassment or bias, it should act swiftly, experts say. In a session at the Society for Human Resource Management's Employment Law and Legislative Conference this spring, InvestiPro's Dana Barbato offered suggestions on how complaints should be handled. First, the process should be standardized. An inconsistent process makes it harder for HR to do its due diligence. Establishing a process and applying it to complaints ranging from theft to bias can keep employers accountable and put employees at ease, she said.
Second, HR should listen actively, taking notes to ensure accuracy and show employees that HR takes their claims seriously, Barbato suggested. Session audience members suggested repeating portions of the account back to the employee for accuracy and sending official notes to the employee electronically for the employee to review and, if necessary, to add more comments.
Third, end the investigation. An indefinite investigation damages trust between HR and the employee, Barbato said. One audience member suggested "close out" meetings. Barbato also suggested that, because the term "investigation" can have negative connotations, the inquiry be renamed "a resolution process."