Human Rights Commission CFO gropes, keeps job

I think there is still a big and unresolved issue about how small but personally invasive actions can result in major repercussions – for both the victims and the offenders.

This groping story is of particular interest because a senior staff member of the Human Rights Commission is allegedly involved.

Stuff: Human Rights Commission finance boss sexually harasses young intern, keeps job

A young American woman cut short her internship at the Human Rights Commission after she was groped by the organisation’s chief financial officer at a work party.

The commission investigated a sexual harassment complaint against Kyle Stutter, which resulted in disciplinary action. However, three months on, he remains employed there as chief financial officer.

From what is reported it’s difficult to judge whether what happened was of job-losing severity or not. Consequences of harassment remains a highly contentious issue.

The intern says she trusted the commission to look after her; instead, she felt the complaints process and the attempts to gag her became all about “protecting the organisation”.

If that’s what happened it is of concern that the Human Rights Commission is gagging the victim to protect their reputation.

The commission is the country’s watchdog for unlawful discrimination and racial or sexual harassment. But the former intern says it seemed ill-equpped to deal with Stutter targeting her, and it didn’t acknowledge the seriousness of the incident.

It is alarming that the Commission responsible for dealing with unlawful discrimination and racial or sexual harassment can’t deal with their own internal cases adequately.

The allegation:

…one Friday night at a farewell party for a colleague, after work hours at a private venue. As the night wore on, her colleagues left and she planned to head home herself. Only she and Stutter remained.

At this point, Stutter began dancing with her, before advancing on her without her consent and groping her breasts and private parts, she said, despite her trying to push his hands away.

“I felt it was so severe that it was completely unacceptable and inappropriate.”

She told Stutter she needed to leave and he walked her out of the venue. She got in an Uber and left.

The aftermath and mediation:

“I sent him an email later that night, just to let him know that it wasn’t OK and he should have asked permission to dance with me, to do anything with me,” she said.

She felt Stutter’s return email was “not an adequate response”. She considered laying a complaint with police, but instead reported the incident to her immediate boss the following Monday. She was confident the commission would address it.

But a mediation demonstrated there was no specific policy to deal with the incident.

That’s surprising. Perhaps the thought that harassment policies were just for other organisations.

The result of the mediation was that Stutter sent her a written apology and had to undertake anti-harassment counselling. He also received a formal warning and had the incident recorded on his personnel file, to be removed after three years if there were no further complaints against him.

“I would have hoped to see there was some distinction drawn at some point, where something like this would be handled differently to someone just making an inappropriate comment.”

She added there should have been increased transparency around the matter. “The fact there is so much emphasis on confidentiality in their policies can make it really isolating.

“It wasn’t until the complaint got to the highest level that I felt it wasn’t so much about me any more, it was about protecting the organisation, and them hitting all the right points that they had to hit legally. Ultimately I felt it came down to making sure they could move on as an organisation.”

The Commission response:

Chief executive Cynthia Brophy said the organisation was reviewing its internal processes for dealing with sexual harassment and “if there is anything we can improve on we are keen to make sure this happens”.

“I have a high degree of trust and confidence in the professionalism of all of our staff and can confirm that there is no current complaint outstanding against anyone in the Human Rights Commission.”

That sounds like sweeping under the Commission carpet. And it isn’t a one off incident:

The complaint against Stutter isn’t the only sexual harassment complaint against the commission’s staff in the past five years.

Figures released to Stuff under the Official Information Act showed the organisation had investigated three sexual harassment complaints against three separate staff members dating back to 2013.

Each of the complaints progressed to an investigation, with Stutter’s the only case that resulted in disciplinary action. Two employees resigned before their investigations were completed.

That suggests (but doesn’t confirm) three legitimate complaints.

It is understood the complaint against Stutter was dealt with exclusively by Brophy and human resources, and none of the organisation’s four commissioners were aware of it until the intern had left.

Chief commissioner David Rutherford said, “the Human Rights Commission takes this matter very seriously”.

“It is an employment matter requiring us to respect all of the rights of our employees. We have confidence in how our chief executive is dealing with this matter.”

It was an employment matter, but it is more than that for the Human Rights Commission. If they can’t deal adequately with internal complaints how can the be trusted to deal with complaints reported to them to deal with, their core function?