It seems obvious, but is perhaps not obvious enough. When someone is being accused of sexual harassment, that same person should not be the one to investigate the claim. Yet that is exactly what happened when Wisconsin’s second top Veterans Affairs official was accused in 2014 of harassing a former veterans program supervisor.
Former Veterans Affairs deputy secretary Mike Trepanier personally investigated the claim lodged against him. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he shelved the claim until it was made again a year later. It was then that an outside review of the allegations took place.
According to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the accuser herself and the outside review both cleared Trepanier of misconduct. But that is not the end of the matter. In fact, a sexual harassment claim has been filed by Trepanier’s accuser against another Veterans Affairs employee.
And then there’s the matter of how the initial complaint was handled. The president of the Wisconsin Employment Lawyers Association summed it up neatly, saying that having the accused lead the inquiry is “the worst way to handle it.”
The former veterans program supervisor now works for the American Legion Department of Wisconsin. Her attorney said he’s not concerned that Trepanier reviewed the complaint against him. He said the former deputy secretary had not harassed his client.
The woman later filed a legal claim against the administrator of the Division of Veterans Homes, accusing him of sexual harassment and retaliation.
Veterans Affairs policy says that the Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity officer typically investigates harassment complaints.
Former state official Peter Fox told the newspaper that Trepanier used “really poor judgment” in investigating a claim against himself — even a false claim.
The article on the incidents gives much more detail than we can share here. Suffice it to say, virtually everyone is agreed that the initial inquiry was handled inappropriately.
If you have suffered sexual harassment and retaliation, contact an employment law attorney experienced in resolution of complaints with careful negotiation and vigorous litigation.