Education Update: The Art Of Investigation

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One of the most challenging, but increasingly common, tasks a school will face is conducting an investigation into misconduct by a student, employee – or possibly even a parent. Nearly every instance of alleged wrongdoing a school learns about mandates some type of investigation. For example, schools should conduct investigations when a student complains of teacher misconduct, an employee complains of co-worker harassment, or the school suspects a student has cheated on a test.

Why Should You Investigate At All?

Generally, investigations fall into two categories. In the first, the goal is to simply find out "who did it?" In the second type of investigation, the primary purpose is to satisfy a legal obligation (with the secondary purpose to find out "who did it?").

The second type of investigation should occur when the school has a legal obligation to take all reasonable steps to prevent and/or correct unlawful harassment in the workplace. In Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, the U.S. Supreme Court established an important defense for employers who act responsibly and reasonably to prevent harassment by supervisors in their workplaces.

Where the alleged harassment does not result in a tangible job detriment (such as termination or denial of a raise or promotion), an employer may avoid liability under federal law if it can show: 1) that the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior; and 2) that the complaining employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of such preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise. In addition, the laws of some states require a school to take affirmative steps to prevent harassment or discrimination of its employees.

Every investigation involves different facts, so no two investigations are alike. Nonetheless, you should have a consistent approach to misconduct investigations. The six steps below provide a solid framework for any investigation.

Please see full article below for more information.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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