Rutgers’ “Independent” Investigation

RutgersOne wonders how an “independent” investigation could support a finding that Rutgers bullying basketball coach Mike Rice should remain on the university payroll?

Rice was forced to resign recently after a videotape was leaked to the public and showed him verbally and physically  abusing players, while using homophobic slurs.

 In his letter of resignation letter to Rutger’s President Robert L. Barchi, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti writes:

 “As you know, my first instincts when I saw the videotape of Coach Rice’s behavior was to fire him immediately. However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals and outside counsel. Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal.”

Corporate Counsel  reports that the outside counsel, Attorney John Lacey, an attorney with Connell Foley of Roseland, NJ,  issued a report in January stating that Rice could not be fired “for cause.” because there was no clear violation of his employment contract.

  Lacey found that Rice was extremely demanding of his assistant coaches and players but that his behavior did not constitute “a ‘hostile work environment’ as that term is understood under Rutgers’ anti-discrimination policies.”  Lacy said  the “intensity” of Rice’s misconduct may have breached provisions in his contract against embarrassing the school but, as Rutgers officials conveniently point out, did not recommend termination. 

The conclusion of the so-called independent investigation once again raises questions about these so-called  independent investigations.

 Increasingly,  employers hire  outside parties to “investigate” claims of workplace abuse.  There  often is  an unstated expectation that the result  of the investigation will affirm the employer’s goal of retaining the valued bully while insulating the employer from a potential lawsuit if the less valued target files a lawsuit. Too often the so-called independent investigators are attorneys who place themselves in the position of appearing to be for sale to the highest bidder.

 The videotape is so shocking that it defies reason that any “independent” investigator could reasonably  conclude that Rice’s behavior did not justify dismissal. In fact, some of the basketball  players could have filed criminal assault complaints against Rice for physically manhandling them. Instead of dismissing Rice, Rutgers fined him $50,000 and suspended him for three games in December.

 Just as in the Penn State scandal involving  pedophile football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, Rutgers appears to have tolerated Rice’s bad behavior.

After the videotape was leaked, the dominos began to fall. Rice was fired.  Assistant Coach Jeremy Martelli, Rutger’s General Counsel John Wolf, and Pernetti resigned.  If I were Barchi, I wouldn’t make plans to redecorate the Presidential suite.  Barchi’s  claim that he never took the time to watch the videotape.until it was made public was met with obvious disdain at a press conference. Barchi blamed his bad decision on a “failure of process.”

Here is what needs to happen so that employers will take workplace bullying seriously – managers  need to be held accountable.  

These student athletes are essentially workers who are paid in the form of scholarship assistance by the university.  Like any other worker, they know that  a complaint can result in retaliation and their termination.  These players  relied upon their unofficial employer, Rutgers, to insure they were treated with dignity and respect and certainly not subjected to emotional and p physical abuse.

 Most of the players just put up with Rice’s abuse. However, according to news reports, at least three players transferred from the program as a result of Rice’s abuse.



Two Cities Pioneer Workplace Bully Laws

Increasing awareness of the problem of workplace bullying is reflected in the adoption of anti-bully laws to protect workers in two  cities, Yonkers, N.Y. and Ridgeview, N.J.

Yonkers City Council unanimously approved legislation last month that established a “zero-tolerance policy” for bullying among city employees.

At a news conference last week to mark implementation of the law, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said that “there is no excuse for the mistreatment and bullying of others — whether it’s in schools or the workplace.”

Michael Sabatino, an openly gay city council member who lobbied for the bill, expressed hope that Yonkers’ example will inspire New York state to adopt a statewide workplace anti-bully law.

“Everyone is affected by bullying — the person subjected to bullying, those who witness it as well as the person who bullies … It creates a toxic and hostile work environment. We all should feel comfortable and safe in our work environment, so what better place to start than our city offices?” said Sabatino.

The Yonkers’ bill calls for the Human Rights Commission to work with the Human Resources Department to create appropriate training materials to instruct City of Yonkers employees on how to best identify potential signs of bullying.   Additionally, the City of Yonkers Corporation Counsel will define the classifications of bullying in the workplace and will require workplace bullying to be integrated into the ethics training. The new law has no jurisdiction over the city’s private sector.

In January, the Borough Council of Ridgefield, NJ, approved an ordinance to prohibit bullying by employees, in municipal facilities, and in borough recreation programs. The measure, which is the first of its kind in the state, calls for the formation of a committee to receive bullying complaints, investigate them, and recommend remedial action.

The Ridgefield ordinance states that “a safe and civil environment is required and appropriate in order that borough officers and employees be able to properly perform their job functions and duties, and so that borough residents may optimally participate in or receive borough services or programs. Bullying is conduct that disrupts both the borough workplace and the delivery of borough services and enjoyment of borough programs.”

The ordinance passed 5-0, with Republican Councilman Angus Todd abstaining. Todd said laws already in place are meant to curb bullying and harassment.