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Chaparral 2014-2015: 23.4 Guild News

Guild News (March 2015)

Guild News: Harassment and Discrimination Complaints

by Paul Vera

Guild Grievance Officer

In my first semester as your Grievance Officer, I have directly or indirectly dealt with a few cases in which an individual – a student, fellow faculty member, or college employee – filed a discrimination or harassment complaint. And with increasing pressure from the Obama administration to address sexual violence on college campuses, and the measures some universities such as Penn State and Harvard have taken, Guild Executive felt it was time that you provide a brief overview of the Guild’s role when the District investigates discrimination and harassment complaints specifically (as opposed to when the District investigates issues related to our contract).

AFT ad march 2015The procedures for dealing with harassment and discrimination complaints at Glendale College are laid out in Administrative Regulation (AR) 3435. The procedures include definitions of the complainant (the individual who files a complaint), the intake and processing of the complaint, the investigatory steps (including the interview), the timeline for the completion of the investigation, the dissemination of an investigatory report, corrective or disciplinary action that may remedy the complaint, and the appeals process. The investigation in conducted by the Office of Human Resources. This is different than the processes that address disputes between students and faculty regarding accommodations of disabilities(AR 5101), student grievances unrelated to discrimination or harassment  (AR 5530), and non-contractual employee-to-employee disputes related to Board policies and administrative regulations and job relations (AR 7216). This is different than the process for addressing disputes between students and faculty involving accommodations of disabilities (AR 5101) and resolving other student grievances unrelated to discrimination or harassment (AR 5530).

In careful detail, AR 3435 is worded according to federal and state-mandated laws and guidelines set out in Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education; Title VII, which prohibits employment practices that discriminate because of race, color, national origin, sex and religion; the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student education records; and the State Chancellor’s Office, to which the final report and other documents related to the complaint are sent. In addition, if discrimination is alleged, at any time a complainant who is a District employee may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). A student complainant may also file an unlawful discrimination complaint with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (OCR). With so many legal entities looking out for the possibility of harassment or discrimination on our campus and the threat of witholding government funds if the District does not comply with them, you may begin to understand why the District is obligated to investigate any complaints – informal or formal – regarding discrimination or harassment.

If you are contacted by Human Resources about a complaint (most likely by email), you will know the nature of the complaint (harassment or discrimination) and the name of the complainant if the individual has chosen not to remain anonymous. You will receive a link to AR 3435, a request to attend an investigatory meeting, and a notice reminding you to contact the Guild if you choose to. That is all at this point. Imagine yourself as someone who has just received notice. In addition to whatever feelings you have about the accusation and its circumstances, you are now in the position of defending yourself. This is where the Guild can assist you.

Unlike with issues involving the Collective Bargaining Agreement such as working conditions and salary, the Guild has an indirect role to play in the investigation of harassment and discrimination complaints. A Guild representative can only work to ensure that you receive due process during a harassment or discrimination investigation. The Guild cannot tell you what to say during the interview but may explain the steps in the process and shed some light on your participation in your specific case. You are never required to share any information with a Guild representative; however, you can be confident that anything you do share remains confidential. By request, the Guild can assist with the release of information related to the complaint.  

You also have a right to representation at any investigatory meeting. To this end, the Guild has negotiated language in Article III, Section 2-B (page 9), which states the following:

If the District requests a meeting with a faculty member which could result in the     discipline of the faculty member, the District will notify the faculty member of     his/her right to have a Guild representative at the meeting.

In the event that the District does not notify you of this right before an investigatory meeting involving a harassment or discrimination, and if, for some reason, you are sitting across from or on the phone with a representative of the District who suddenly wants to ask you questions about a formal harassment or discrimination complaint, the Guild recommends that you invoke your Weingarten Rights.

If you want Guild representation, Weingarten Rights are your last line of defense, so to speak. Simply put, if you are in any meeting and suddenly you have a reasonable feeling that the questions and your answers may lead to disciplinary action, the Guild recommends that you stop answering questions and say this:

If this discussion could in any way lead to my being disciplined or discharged, I request that my Union representative be present at the meeting. Without representation, I choose not to answer any questions.

By law, you cannot be disciplined for invoking this right. The interviewer can then do one of the following:

  1. Grant the request and continue the interview once a Guild representative arrives and has had a chance to consult privately with you;
  2. Deny the request and end the interview immediately; or
  3. Give you the choice of continuing the interview without Guild representation or ending the interview.

If the interviewer continues to ask questions about the harassment or discrimination complaint, this a violation of your Weingarten Rights. However, you  cannot simply stand up and walk out of the interview or hang up the phone: This is an act of insubordination. You have to wait until the interviewer ends the interview.

Hopefully you never get to this point because you have already contacted the Guild for assistance. Even though the Guild representative does not answer questions for you during an interview or advise you on how to answer questions, having a Guild representative next to you during an investigation provides some comfort while you are answering questions that may make you uncomfortable. And if the investigation begins to focus on information that seems irrelevant to the complaint, the Guild officer will speak up.

I have used the term “disciplinary action” loosely, as if the end of an investigation of a harassment or discrimination must always result in some form of punishment. In fact, at the end of this investigation, while the final report may recommend disciplinary action, corrective action such as mediation, communication or cultural sensitivity training, separation of the complainant and faculty member, and other remedies may be recommended. Disciplinary action is a last resort. The goal of this investigation is not to figure out how to punish the faculty member, but to offer tools and guidance that help alter behavior so that a complaint is not filed again.  

Again, every case involving harassment or discrimination has specific challenges, so please remember that you have an ally in the Guild.  


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