Judge With Caution
I’ve written and set aside at least a half-dozen columns about the #metoo movement. Most of what’s worth saying has already been said. Then I considered my own experiences and realized I had an unusual one, long ago, that might serve as a cautionary tale. It became my final column before Our London closed its pages for good. I was also invited to talk about it this week on News 95.7 in Halifax. Believe the complainant, but don’t assume every alleged perpetrator is guilty. That’s the strange and confusing world we’re living in when it comes to claims of sexual harassment.
I know what it’s like to seek an authority figure to intervene in the workplace, only to be ignored. I wondered why my workplace bully mattered and I didn’t. One former manager later claimed he was trying “to toughen you up”. Toughness wasn’t the issue; fairness was.
Any complainant, regardless of gender, should get our support even as we owe it to the alleged perpetrator to investigate before throwing them, or their career, to the wolves. Harvey Weinstein had a landslide of evidence against him and deserved to become wolf food but many times it’s not that simple. Motive and context have to be considered.
As Program Director of a radio station, I had to fire one of my announcers. I suspected that he had falsified program logs and hooked up to our satellite overnight show an hour early so he could sneak out and socialize. One Friday, using a photocopier and an old prescription, he dummied up a doctor’s note in order to get the weekend off. I knew it wasn’t legit but I couldn’t act until I had concrete proof. Later that day, I saw him through the glass of the adjoining TV station, happily recording an on-camera segment for a show. He was too sick for radio but not for TV? He had to go.
Protocol dictated that I dismiss the employee in the presence of the station’s General Manager. I felt terrible about it and hardly slept the night before. The three of us assembled in the GM’s office and I explained that we would be terminating employment immediately and the reasons why. The employee said to the GM, “Lisa asked me out and I said no, and that’s why she’s firing me.”
I was stunned and quickly said “That’s not true.” Aside from occasional one-on-one meetings in my office I had never even spent time alone with this guy. There was no hint of anything flirtatious between us, in either direction. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
The General Manager, a serious and thoughtful man, pondered the allegation for a moment, and then threw back his head and let out a bellow of laughter. “Get out of my office”, he said. I barely had time to react, and it was over, thank goodness. In a desperate bid to save his job, the ex-employee had thrown a Hail Mary pass that didn’t land.
My manager had my back. But what would have come of it in today’s climate? If the claim was posted on social media, I’d be on the defensive. People have lost their careers for less, with no formal complaint or investigation.
We must believe the complainant but we can’t overreact. It’s too late for some Democrats in the U.S. who forced Sen. Al Franken to resign and they’re now reported to have second thoughts, wondering if they went too far. I welcome the climate that encourages victims to come forward, but we ought not rush to judgment every time.