This current wave of sexual harassment (and, in some cases, sexual assault) allegations that are making headlines every single day is downright astonishing to many employment lawyers that I know.
It is the tsunami that knows no end.
And right now, that makes me nervous. But maybe not for the reason you might think.
It’s not that I am nervous for companies or the risk of lawsuits.
I think many companies are prepared to deal with claims of harassment that arise and will adapt quickly to the landscape where more employees are bringing such matters to their attention.
What makes me nervous is the potential rush to judgment that seems to increase with every case.
Think of Matt Lauer last week: A claim brought Monday evening and he was fired late Tuesday night. Quick.
Thorough? Perhaps. Correct? Probably (based on the media reports). But still pretty quick.
This is not a defense of harassers or even of Matt Lauer. If someone commits sexual harassment, companies ought to take prompt corrective action. Companies that ignore complaints do so at their own peril.
As a lawyer though, I’m think I’ve been trained to be wary of allegations. I went to law school in St. Louis, Missouri where they are proud of the slogan “Show Me”.
I have yet to see two identical sex harassment cases. Each matter brings a different set of people, a different set of circumstances, and different set of facts.
Facts still matter.
I’m waiting for the potential (or inevitable?) backlash to come from the current wave.
It may just start with a Duke Lacrosse-type situation — allegations so outrageous that everyone will want to believe them true. And then we’ll find out that the allegations aren’t true.
And I worry about the harm to the process as a result. It will set back those with legitimate complaints as well.
So, deep breathes everyone.
See harassment allegations come your way? Investigate. Seek to get the truth. Or as close to it as possible.
Some complaints will be true; others may not be. What is alleged to be harassment, may instead be a consensual relationship.
And most of all, be cautious. And avoid the rush to judgment.