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Internal Investigations 101: Duty to Investigate

An internal investigation is an important mechanism an organization can use to address an allegation of wrongdoing, determine legal liability, identify individuals or parties with culpability, comply with regulatory requirements, develop corrective measures and enhance operational efficiencies. Buckner is pleased to continue its blog series highlighting best practices, strategies and techniques that can be used by organizational leaders and counsel during an internal investigation. Today’s post will discuss an organization’s duty to conduct an internal investigation:

An organization has a duty to investigate promptly and thoroughly. If an organization fails to promptly investigate allegations and complaints, it may suffer legal consequences. Further, in the advent of a lawsuit by an employee, student or third-party, an organization’s defenses require the demonstration of a prompt investigation and implementation of remedial measures (if determined by the internal investigation).

Federal courts have demanded prompt investigations for several years. For example, in Hall v. Gus Constr. Co., 842 F.2d 1010 (8th Cir. 1988), “Gus Construction Co., Inc. and one of its foremen, John Mundorf, appeal from a judgment imposing liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1982), and the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Iowa Code Chapter 601A 1012*1012 (1985), for their having failed to protect Darla Hall, Patty Baxter, and Jeannette Ticknor from sexual harassment by their coworkers. The hostile and abusive working environment resulted in the women’s constructive discharge. On appeal, appellants challenge the sufficiency of the evidence and the award of damages for emotional distress under the Iowa statute.” The appeals court affirmed the decision of the district court and noted: “In this case, Mundorf, as the agent of Gus Construction Co., had both actual and constructive notice of the campaign of harassment against the three women. Each of the women met with Mundorf individually to complain of the treatment they were receiving from their coworkers. The women also met with Mundorf as a group to discuss the hostile work environment. Furthermore, Mundorf observed many of the incidents. He knew that the men bombarded the women with sexual insults and abusive treatment. Even if Mundorf did not know everything that went on, the incidents of harassment here, as in Hunter, were so numerous that Mundorf and Gus Construction Co. are liable for failing to discover what was going on and to take remedial steps to put an end to it.”

Further, most states possess laws imposing a similar requirement. For example, in California, an employer is required to promptly and thoroughly investigate any claim of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation under the state Fair Employment and Housing Act, Cal. Gov. Code section 12940(j) and (k).

Contact attorney Michael L. Buckner (+1-954-941-1844; mbuckner@bucknersportslaw.com) for additional information on conducting internal investigations and intelligence-gathering.


About Michael L. Buckner, Esquire

An attorney who provides clients with internal investigation, civil litigation, estate planning and compliance services.


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