Steps in Conducting
By Janet L Horton
Bracewell & Patterson, L.L.P.
2900 S. Tower, Pennzoll Place
Houston, Texas 77002
Kev 1: Develop and disseminate an effective policy.
Every college and school district needs a policy against sexual harassment. The policy should
be printed in student handbooks and employee manuals, it should be explained at in-services
and student orientations. The name and phone number of the District's Title IX coordinator
and other resource persons should be published in all handbooks and manuals. Policies should
be periodically reviewed and updated to ensure their effectiveness. Ensure that your
procedures are flexible enough to enable the complainant to bypass the accused in filing a
Kev 2: Provide annual training.
Supervisory personnel need specialized training on how to recognize and respond to
allegations of sexual harassment, how to resolve disputes, and how to help subordinates
understand the policy against sexual harassment. Supervisory personnel should in-service their
subordinates. Provide anti-victimization programs for students.
Kev 3: Respond promptly to allegations of sexual harassment.
Every college and district must foster an environment in which employees and students feel
confident in the complaint system, it is essential that school officials respond promptly to
allegations of sexual harassment and that all sexual harassment allegations be taken seriously.
Most investigations should be initiated within a few days of receipt of the complaint (actual
completion of the investigation may take longer in which case you should periodically give the
complainant a status report). Parents should be notified as soon as possible about allegations
involving their child, and the investigation process should be explained. Notify CPS or an
appropriate law enforcement agency if there is any reason to suspect abuse or neglect. At the
outset of the investigation, the accused should be warned in writing to avoid contact with the
complainant pending disposition of the complaint, in cases involving threats or physical abuse,
consider taking interim action pending disposition of the complaint. For example, it may be
necessary to temporarily transfer the accused or to place him on administrative leave. Review
your policies and consult with appropriate administrators before taking action against the
Kev 4: interview the complainant.
if more than one complainant has come forward concerning the same or similar incidents, be
sure to interview them separately. Adult complainants should complete an appropriate
grievance form. The interviewer needs to learn the name of the accused(s), relevant dates,
alleged acts, frequency of conduct, and the complainants response to the conduct.
Complainants should be encouraged to be as factually specific as possible, if the complainant
is vague, timid, or bashful, be patient. For example, if the complainant states, "He makes me
feel uncomfortable," she should be asked for a description of the specific acts that make her
feel uncomfortable. Use dolls or drawings with young children if appropriate, complainants
should be assured of protection from retaliation. They should be encouraged to report any
allegations of retaliation to the investigator. Although the interview of the complainant should
be professional and objective, the complainants credibility often is an issue, so be sure to ask
appropriate questions that will enable you to evaluate his or her credibility. Ask for names of
witnesses. Examine any physical evidence (e.g., letters, answering machine tapes, photographs,
calendars). Prepare a written summary of the interview and request the complainant (or
parent) to sign the summary.
Key 5: Remain objective.
During the interview of the complainant and during the investigation process, the investigator
must remain objective, without conceding the truth or falsity of the allegations. Neutrality
may be difficult during the interview of the complainant. If the complainant needs repeated
reassurance during the process, inform her of the counseling opportunities that are available.
Kev 6: interview witnesses named bv the complainant.
interview all persons suggested to you by the complainant. Remind all witnesses to keep the
matter confidential. Avoid unnecessarily divulging details about the investigation. In cases in
which the complainant has chosen to remain anonymous, avoid disclosing the identity of the
complainant. Ask open-ended questions, e.g., "Have you ever felt any concern over any
comments that Mr. smith has made during class?" If witnesses are unavailable or refuse to
cooperate, document your efforts to contact them.
Kev 7: interview the accused.
some investigators prefer to interview the accused after completion of most of the initial
investigation (i.e, after interviewing the complainant and any corroborating witnesses). The
timing of the interview will depend on the nature of the allegations. When interviewing the
accused, avoid general questions such as "Did you harass her?" or "Do you think you acted
inappropriately?" Ask specific questions based on the complainant's allegations, e.g., "Did you
rub her neck?", "Did you tell her she looked pretty?", "Did you make a joke about male
anatomy?" Ask for names of witnesses. The accused may be frustrated or angry, particularly
if the name of the complainant is withheld. Explain that the investigation is an automatic
response to a complaint under school policy and that, at this stage, the name of the
complainant cannot be disclosed. Regardless of whether the accused knows the identity of the
complainant, the accused should be reminded of the policy against retaliation. The
investigator should type a summary of the interview and ask the accused to sign the summary.
The accused may be asked to answer and sign a sworn questionnaire, but the district's legal
counsel should be consulted in connection with the preparation of such a document.
Kev 8: interview witnesses named bv the accused.
Same as Key 6.
Kev 9: Examine documentary evidence, if anv.
occasionally, allegations can be tested by looking at written documents. A complainant may
allege that an attack occurred on a certain date, but the accused may be abie to establish that
he had jury duty that day. An accused may attempt to establish a retaliatory motive by a
student with reference to a students written work or tests. Examine student files and
personnel files as appropriate. Always determine whether the accused was previously warned
about inappropriate behavior or was previously accused of dishonesty. Determine whether
the accused previously attended an in-service on sexual harassment. If a teacher was
transferred from one school to another within the district, contact the previous principal, but
do not gratuitously reveal details about the ongoing investigation.
Kev 10: Re-interview the complainant, if necessary.
After the investigator has interviewed the accused and any witnesses, it may be necessary to
meet with the complainant to ask follow-up questions.
Kev 11: Prepare an investigation report.
Each school's policy will dictate how the report should be written. Some require a purely
factual summary of what witnesses have said, others require a written factual summary as well
as specific findings and conclusions, including findings and conclusions about whether the
policy was violated. Again, depending on the policy, the report may be reviewed by a higher-
level administrator. A report should be prepared even if the complaint is not sustained. At the
conclusion of the investigation, the report should be made available to the accused and to the
Key 12: implement anv recommendations.
investigations usually result in one of three findings: sustained, not sustained, or inconclusive.
Penalties may include suspension, dismissal, reprimand, removal of perks, or a change of
assignment If written directives are issued to the accused, the directives should be factually
specific. A sustained complaint does not mean guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; it means that
a preponderance of the evidence indicates that the sexual harassment policy has been violated.
School or college policy should dictate a procedure for implementing any recommendations,
if there is a finding of harassment, the accused should be able to appeal either the finding of
harassment or the penalty assigned. If the complaint is not sustained, then the complainant
should have an opportunity to contest the finding. The regular grievance procedure often is
used for this purpose, although some districts have special sexual harassment procedures,
individuals with contracts (or property interests in continued employment) are entitled to due
process before being terminated or suspended without pay; if employed by a public school
district, the employee may be entitled to other statutory protections, in an inconclusive case,
it nonetheless may be prudent to meet with the accused to remind him or her about the
purpose of the sexual harassment policy and to remind him or her to avoid actions that give
the appearance of impropriety. The accused also should be warned about retaliation. Even
in a case in which the charges are not sustained, there may be tension as a result of the
investigation, which may necessitate some action, such as a transfer or reassignment in cases
involving employee-to-employee harassment, the complainant should rarely, if ever, be
transferred; such action could be viewed as retaliatory. However, in some situations, the
complainant may request it, in which case her request and/or consent should be documented.
Kev 15: Follow UP.
If an investigation reveals that an entire work area or department has been exposed to a large-
scale sexual harassment problem, it may be necessary and desirable to schedule a series of
sexual harassment workshops or, at a minimum, to distribute memoranda reminding
employees about the school's policy. If the accused and the complainant will continue to have
occasional contact, it may be prudent to follow up with the complainant several months after
the investigation to ensure that harassment has not resumed.