Investigative Training

Sexual Harassment Investigative Training: Prepares educators to prevent, investigate, stop offensive environments in schools

By DaLaena Neff, Horizons Editor
Reprinted with permission from Horizons newsletter, Midwest Equity Assistance Center
March/April 2001

It happens everywhere. There is not one school district who is immune to it.

“It’s always been around. It’s always been hostile, it’s always been offensive, but now it’s being recognized as being against the law. It is illegal for this type of conduct to continue,” William D. Berard, III, attorney at law and senior McGrath Trainer, said at the Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Investigation Training, April 4-5, 2001, in Kansas City, MO.

This training was sponsored by the Midwest Equity Assistance Center (MEAC). Previously, MEAC conducted this training in Des Moines, Iowa in 1997 with Mary Jo McGrath, attorney at law and founder of McGrath Systems, Inc.

“There have been more incidents of sexual harassment issues occurring in the area. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), school districts and state departments felt there was a need to replicate the Level 1 of the training that was conducted in 1997,” Dr. Charles Rankin, director of MEAC, said.

This two day training gathered teachers and administrators from Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska. They came eager to learn and Berard was willing to teach. “My goal is to empower the people I am training to take back to the students and staff what they’re learning so that all on campus can be aware of what’s happening on their campus, because it does happen everywhere,” Berard said.

Berard said he believes awareness and knowledge of how to deal with sexual harassment properly is crucial. “And more importantly how to effectively combat it and to stop it, to prevent that type of hostile and effective atmosphere.”

“I believe there are certain life-long learning skills that need to empower students, that far transcend the science and mathematics, and that is how to deal with each other, how to communicate and how to respect each other. And I think if we do, I believe it can resolve a lot of the Title IX issues we are talking about today.”

Berard defined sexual harassment as a form of discrimination that is sexual in nature, based on gender. “If you have a form of discrimination that is not sexual in nature, it certainly still is discrimination, it’s not just sexual harassment.”

However, he mentioned there is a need for a cause of action for same-sex sexual harassment. This came about in the case of Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc.

“It ruled that same-sex sexual harassment is actionable discrimination under Title VII,” according to the Sexual Harassment Investigation Training Manual produced by McGrath.

This is mostly needed to monitor same-sex athletes, Berard said.

There are two types of sexual harassment, Berard said.

The first, quid pro quo, is generally described as ‘this for that’. In other words, he said, it is someone using his or her authority over another to get something sexual. “The victim feels that they have something to lose if they don’t do what is asked of them.”

The important part to remember with quid pro quo, he said, is that the victim does not have to follow through. It’s the moment they feel they are in a position for loss or gain of something.

The other type is called hostile environment. This contains any name calling, grabbing and groping in the hall. It must be a pattern of behavior, he said, not just one incident. “One comment is not sexual harassment,” he said, “it has to be persistent, but if the school districts allow that type of language to continue, it can evolve into sexual harassment.” This type can be the hardest for administrators to detect.

There is a five-step criteria for classifying an act as sexual harassment. First, the conduct must be sexual in nature.

Second, it must be unwelcome to the victim. This produces a gray area, Berard said, because there can be a case where there is consent, but it still can be an unwelcome act.

These first two criteria are all that is needed to “substantiate a cause of action for quid pro quo sexual harassment,” he said.

The third says the conduct must be severe, persistent or pervasive. Severity and persistency go hand in hand, he said, however, certain things need to only happen once; it can be so severe that one offense is all it takes to be a need for cause of action.

The fourth says it must reasonably interfere with the victim’s work or study. It has to be more than just an annoyance, he said. This could include personality changes, grades dropping and changes in clothing. However, this one does not always have to be included for an act to still be sexual harassment, Berard said, because there are those who can continue with work or school fine, with no interference.

The last criteria asks, does it meet subjective and objective standards? In other words, Berard said, “would any other reasonable person feel the same way, in the same situation?”

Alyce Sherman, assistant principal at Blue Springs South High School in Blue Springs, MO, said she has been to several inservices and workshops, but, “This training is fabulous, this is the one where the information is so applicable. I will take this information back and use it.”

Bonnie Davis, staff member for the Cooperating School District in St. Louis, agrees with Sherman. She said, “I’ve been to other conferences and I’ve left feeling unsure of my knowledge. I feel I will feel much more secure and be able to pass this information on in my own presentations.”

They both were impressed with the presenter. “He (Berard) walks his talk,” Sherman said, “When you have an instructional leader like that, you tend to engage yourself more in the presentation.”

“I see presenters all the time and he is an excellent presenter,” Davis said.

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