How to settle a sexual harassment case

Good news for sexual harassment lawyers

Last month, a female journalist accused former congressman Harold E. Ford Jr. of grabbing her and trying to pull her into an elevator. Ford was fired by his current employer, Morgan Stanley, for what the Wall Street investment bank described as “conduct inconsistent with our values and in violation of our policies.” 

A clear violation of corporate policy. (Photo via Creative Commons/Wikipedia.)

But this month, after Ford threatened to sue Morgan Stanley for defamation, the bank reached a legal settlement with him that included this clarification: “The press has reported that Mr. Ford was terminated for sexual misconduct. He was not. We have not received any internal allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct involving him either before or after his separation became public.” The statement didn’t say why Ford had been fired, other than to note that his dismissal “was based on corporate policy.”

Five days of scandal

That was a week ago. During the next seven days, Gordon Edelstein, director of Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, since 2002, was placed on leave after four women described unwanted sexual contact. Several female employees said they were harassed or assaulted by Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn, who was reported to have settled one case for $7.5 million. Pennsylvania congressman Pat Meehan decided not to seek reelection following revelations that he used taxpayer funds to settle a harassment claim by a former aide. Florida senator Marco Rubio fired his chief of staff, Clint Reed, after concluding Reed “violated office policies regarding proper relations between a supervisor and their subordinates.” And, on a larger scale, Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar, a sports-medicine guru for gymnasts, rowers, dancers, and runners, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting more than 100 young women and child athletes in his care. 

What's with this guy? We're sure glad he doesn't work in [your office]. (Photo via Creative Commons/Wikimedia.)
What's with this guy? We're sure glad he doesn't work in [your office]. (Photo via Creative Commons/Wikimedia.)

As a service to the legal profession, I offer a handy boilerplate settlement statement, applicable for almost any office sexual offense. Simply fill in the blanks with the relevant names, numbers, and crimes, and you’re good to go.

To set the record straight: a statement from [your company]

The press reported that our company recently terminated Mr. [blank] for sexual misconduct. Nothing could be further from the truth. After extensive investigation, we can state categorically that Mr. [blank] was not fired because [number between one and infinity] female accusers say he [insert humiliating sexual act] them in [enclosed office space].

Contrary to the assertions of [number between one and infinity] women, our internal investigation has concluded that Mr. [blank] never [emailed/called/mailed/slipped under the office/home/bathroom door] anything to anyone [saying/showing] [insert humiliating sexual reference/photograph]. Nor was he fired for asking [number between one and infinity] women employees to [insert humiliating sexual act] while he dictated memos in his [insert state of undress].

Furthermore, Mr. [blank] was not fired for [insert release of specific bodily fluid(s)] all over the [insert office decoration/shrubbery] in our reception area, or for requiring [number between one and infinity] female subordinates to clean up said residue. 

[Your company] is committed to operating with the highest ethical standards and maintaining a safe and respectful culture. It should go without saying that we take these kinds of allegations very seriously, though we believe these specific allegations lack credibility, as Mr. [blank] has worked here a long time, and has always been viewed around the office as a loving [husband/partner/friend/large donor to company's pet charity] and someone who would never do this sort of thing. 

Our policy also specifically prohibits any male department head from promising promotions or raises to female [insert professional relationship] in exchange for [insert humiliating sexual act]. We feel strongly that Mr. [blank] has been unjustly accused of these offenses, which are anathema to us and to him, and we would feel this way even if he hadn’t threatened to sue us.

As to the reason for Mr. [blank's] termination, company personnel policy requires that such matters be kept confidential.

Our readers respond

Bob Ingram

of Cape May Court House, NJ on February 01, 2018

I look forward to Dan Rottenberg’s comments as clear and level-headed takes on whatever he takes on. His voice is a balm in these chaotic times. Keep punching, Dan!

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Want previews of our latest stories about arts and culture in Philadelphia? Sign up for our newsletter.