Sexual Misconduct & Workplace Harassment

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Over many decades, Ropes & Gray has helped clients address and resolve the complex and highly sensitive issues presented by sexual misconduct and workplace harassment allegations, including assessment, investigation, remediation, litigation and proactive compliance efforts.

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Overview

The ongoing spate of high-profile sexual misconduct allegations in the workplace—affecting financial services firms, universities, public companies, news and media outlets, non-profit organizations, government agencies and a host of other entities—has brought the breadth of the problem and potential risks sharply to the fore. In the wake of the recent stream of allegations and accompanying swift public repercussions, companies and organizations are keenly aware of the potential for widespread legal, financial and reputational harm, and also intently focused on proactive steps to mitigate risk and ensure a positive workplace environment.

To address the range of risks presented and lessons learned from years of helping clients to navigate these matters, we have an established interdisciplinary team of lawyers at Ropes & Gray who collectively comprise our Sexual Misconduct & Workplace Harassment Group. The Group includes labor and employment specialists, government enforcement lawyers, civil litigators, practitioners versed in governance and disclosure matters, and other practice and industry experts who work together seamlessly to assist clients in responding, promptly and effectively, to the full spectrum of issues presented by claims of workplace harassment.

Our Sexual Misconduct & Workplace Harassment group includes a number of partners who served as federal prosecutors at the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney's offices, with substantial investigative, law enforcement and trial experience. 

Independent Investigations

With a sharpened focus on issues of sexual misconduct and harassment, many organizations need the credibility and candor that a third-party review can bring. We bring a deep prosecutorial background and a high degree of emotional intelligence to bear on the most sensitive investigations. Our reputation for cost-effective fact-finding is bolstered by our international presence, which enables us to gather information and conduct interviews virtually anywhere in the world. Leveraging our cross-practice capabilities and in-house resources, we are situated to handle a range of complex investigations.

Read more about our experience and capabilities in independent investigations.

Companies & Individuals

Our attorneys advise and represent clients in investigating claims against key executives, officers and directors accused of workplace misconduct, as well as the discipline and often discharge of individuals found to have engaged in the conduct. We have a deep background in handling large, complex, high profile, and highly sensitive internal investigations. We provide valuable guidance and counseling for an array of clients—including public and private companies, colleges, universities and secondary schools, cultural institutions, athletic organizations, special committees of independent directors, boards of trustees and audit committees—in the context of handling sensitive allegations of sexual abuse, harassment and misconduct. This includes working with the client to develop effective and legally defensible strategies for the separation of those responsible for bad acts, including the negotiation of separation agreements, as well as the crafting and implementation of internal and external communication plans.

Education, Religious and Other Non-Profit Institutions

Over many decades, the attorneys who comprise Ropes & Gray’s Sexual Misconduct & Workplace Harassment practice have successfully represented many academic and cultural institutions, healthcare and social service providers, and religious organizations in sensitive situations, including claims of sexual abuse in numerous high-profile matters. We have represented these clients with respect to the investigation, defense and settlement of sexual misconduct claims, and have also assisted with the development of policies and procedures to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct. 

Transactions

Risks tied to misconduct or harassment can pose unique challenges in the transactional setting, and private equity firms in particular face complex issues because of their roster of portfolio companies engaged in a range of business activities across multiple industries and geographies, together with the special risks posed for investors who also serve as portfolio company directors. Ropes & Gray, recognized as the preeminent international law firm for private equity and as a global leader in advising on complex public company matters, has deep experience that encompasses advising on the full range of transactions, including on deal diligence, and on portfolio company compliance and monitoring.

Our Approach

On all types of matters, clients receive guidance from the firm’s specialized cross-practice teams, which develop an understanding of each situation, assess potential reputational harm and evaluate financial risk. Our teams also gauge the risk of direct and indirect liability, insurance considerations, and legislative developments.

Ropes & Gray has developed a unique risk assessment and mitigation tool, drawing upon objective data and special risk factors identified through decades of experience in handling sexual misconduct and workplace harassment matters across a range of industries, institutions and geographies. This tool allows us to help clients assess their specific risk profile on an individualized basis, and then make informed decisions about where and how best to apply the organization's compliance resources to mitigate those risks. The process allows clients to not only zero in on tailored best practices to establish a positive work environment for all employees, but to also demonstrate from inception to completion (including ongoing monitoring) the thoughtful, systematic and proactive manner in which the organization identified, assessed and mitigated risk with regard to sexual misconduct and workplace harassment.

The risk assessment and mitigation process begins with a Phase I review and assessment of organization-wide internal controls, including an analysis of key policies and procedures, assessment of training programs, and review of the organization's track record for receipt, response and disposition of allegations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment. The review is customized further in Phase II to address elements unique to an organization’s structure, such as special risks presented within identified divisions, departments, offices or geographic locations. In Phase III, drawing upon objective data and known risk factors, such as a male-dominated management team, frequent employee interactions with high-value clients, or a history of perceived weak response to internal complaints, we build a holistic view of the organization's risk profile, identify areas of particular concern, and then recommend risk mitigation strategies to meet the organization's specific needs. 

Our Sexual Misconduct & Workplace Harassment practice has handled a range of matters, including: 

  • Conducting internal investigations into allegations of misconduct, including counseling on preventative measures and remedial steps to address identified issues.
  • Working with clients to adopt best practices related to workplace harassment and misconduct, including training programs for all levels of management and staff, implementation of enhanced policies and procedures, and adoption of other internal controls designed to prevent future harassment and ensure a culture where misconduct is not tolerated.
  • Helping clients avoid litigation and its attendant costs by anticipating and addressing employee concerns and by finding practical resolutions to employee complaints.
  • Advising on and drafting background check authorizations, employment applications, offer letters and employment agreements, workplace policies and other employment related documents as an integral part of an organization’s compliance program. 
In all of our work, we navigate through complex and often highly charged matters alongside our clients to effectuate change where needed, and to resolve claims in a way that does not victimize again those who were victims of workplace misconduct.

Experience

Our clients benefit from our diverse experience and recognized skill in handling sexual misconduct and workplace harassment matters. Notable successes include: 

  • Conducting internal investigation of allegations of sexual harassment and assault at large technology company; counseling company through remedial responses and representing company in resolution of claim for wrongful termination by employee terminated for misconduct
  • Conducting internal investigation of allegations of sexual harassment at international law firm; counseling firm through remedial responses
  • Obtaining multiple dismissals of numerous lawsuits and administrative charges asserting sexual harassment claims
  • Representing a multinational law firm and a number of its partners in defense of a sexual harassment claim
  • Representing a prominent cultural institution in an internal investigation into the highly publicized failure to screen out a sexual predator
  • Representing academic institutions and religious and other non-profit organizations in numerous high-profile matters, including claims of sexual abuse. We represent these clients with respect to the investigation, defense and settlement of sexual misconduct claims, as well as assist with the development of policies and procedures to deal with and mitigate the risk of allegations of sexual misconduct
  • Advising large private equity firms, their portfolio companies, and public companies on the separation of senior professionals determined to have engaged in sexual misconduct and on the negotiation and drafting of the related separation agreements