top of page

Discrimination Complaint Against Me? – What Do I Do?

by Gaines West, Attorney-at-Law, West, Webb, Allbritton & Gentry

What do I do if a colleague or student files a discrimination complaint against me? This question keeps being asked me with greater frequency than ever before. In earlier articles I dove deep into the law. This time I want to give you some practical pointers on how to survive a complaint:

  • Know that you are not alone. With Senate Bill 212 { the new law that requires reporting of sexual harassment, dating violence and stalking - I have given you details in past articles}, and in this #MeToo era, complaints are literally flying into Title IX offices and Faculty Grievance portals.

  • Don’t panic – but do get help. Maybe get help from a university ombudsman, legal representative or other faculty friend – the idea here is don’t go this alone – or on your own. Most of the more difficult cases I work on deal with a faculty member who feels they can handle it all themselves, after all they have done nothing wrong – right? That attitude generally results in sometimes creating many more problems than initially had to be involved.

  • Do keep your documentation {as much as you can} – and keep back-ups. Some colleges and universities will immediately suspend a faculty member while an investigation ensues. Having access to your data may not be possible during suspension. So, a word to the wise: always, always presume you may not have immediate access to your information storage system. Plan ahead. This information can be vital in mounting a defense, and your employer normally won’t allow you access – if only for a little while.

  • Please know that those folks in Human Resources are probably not your friends. Keep information close. Ultimately Human Resource types report to the administration, they {HR} are not there to represent your interests.

  • Do get a copy of any complaint lodged against you. Don’t respond to a summary of a complaint. Until you know exactly what the complaint is, you can’t {and more importantly – shouldn’t} respond to it. Don’t guess at what the complaint is about and don’t take someone’s word for what is in it. If your employer won’t give it to you, get help – and remember never respond to a complaint you haven’t seen.

  • Take every complaint seriously. Today zero tolerance seems to be “in fashion” – meaning the tables really are flipped. In this atmosphere, it’s almost like you are guilty of what is being said about you until you prove you are innocent. That isn’t the way it should be, but for now take every complaint as if you are fighting for your professional life – because in a lot of instances you are doing just that;

  • Be very careful who you talk to about the investigation. Yes, it IS sorry you are having to go through all this – BUT, you may just be spreading news that doesn’t need to be spread.

  • Remember that there will be an end to your nightmare – it may not turn out the way you want it to turn out – but the process will end. Learn from it, grow from it, and don’t retaliate. Retaliation against your accuser is a really dumb coping mechanism. It is like tossing a boomerang out there – the release feels really good – but the return that gets aimed directly at you can end up creating more havoc than the underlying complaint caused. If you are thinking about retaliating – just keep thinking about It - ONLY. Don’t talk about it and don’t do it. Trust me on this.

  • Do share the complaint, and its contents, with your significant other. You don’t want her/him to find out about it in any other way than - from you.

  • Don’t ever give up. If you lose at one round of the complaint process, appeal the result. Get very familiar with the complaint and appeal process at your college or university. There are time deadlines that are written in the rules that all must observe. Know these deadlines and meet every one of them.

There you have it – 10 quick practical steps on how to survive a complaint filed against you. For those of us who are control freaks {ok – I am an attorney after all} remember, we can’t always control what happens to us {well maybe sometime it feels we can’t ever really control what does happen to us!} but – and this is the good news - 100% of the time we CAN control how we respond to what happens to us!

I have had the pleasure of representing some awesome faculty all across Texas who were unfairly charged with doing all sorts of things they didn’t do. And you know what, we made it through and lessons were learned in the process and life returned to normal {whatever that is nowadays!}. So, while having a complaint lodged against you is never the most fun thing that can happen, it doesn’t have to be the worst thing that happens to you either. That old adage rings true here: what doesn’t kill you is bound to make you better!”

“The information in this column is intended to provide a general understanding of the law, not as legal advice. Readers with legal problems, including those whose questions may be addressed here, should consult attorneys for advice on their particular circumstances.”

132 views0 comments


bottom of page