FINDING TRUTH: Deciding Sexual Harassment Claims
Finding the truth is the toughest issue for investigators with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission looking into harassment, wrongful termination claims and others, according to Beth Townsend, the commission’s executive director.
Townsend said, “I think the biggest challenge is always finding witnesses and determining credibility of the parties.”
Townsend’s organization will look into nearly 1,800 cases this year. If you think you have been harassed, discriminated or retaliated against at work, school or in housing, you need to convince her staff. She said, “That’s what jurors face every day when they go in and listen to cases in state and federal court.”
The commission is investigating the complaints from Kirsten Anderson, the former communications director for the Iowa Senate Republicans, who claims she got fired after complaining about sexual harassment on the job. Her complaint with the commission is 5 pages long. In it, Anderson claimed her workplace “allowed sexism and fraternity house chatter to flourish.”
Anderson came to the commission she said because she got fired 7 hours after her final complaint to her higher-ups about her suffering. She maintains the Iowa Civil Rights Act should protect people like herself from a “sexually hostile working environment.”
Townsend said both sides in Anderson’s case have 30 days to complete a questionnaire giving their version of what happened. Although, she said frequently people ask for an additional 2 weeks to complete the necessary paperwork. If the case proceeds, investigators could spend months after that determining whose version of the truth is really what happened. Townsend said, “It’s always trying to figure out who’s telling the truth, when you take into consideration everyone’s different agendas and motives. That’s the biggest challenge.”
Townsend said she is forbidden by the law to talk specifically about any case. But she said, on average, a complainant can expect to hear a decision in 6 to 9 months.