The Systemic Obstruction of HR and Compliance Officers in America

Earlier this week, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights revealed that it is investigating Baylor University for violations of Title IX.  In light of what we’ve learned about cover-ed up rapes and other systemic Title IX failures revealed by a study commissioned by Baylor’s Board, this isn’t exactly surprising.  (It is, nonetheless, a big deal; the investigations are often lengthy and intensive).

However, what makes this investigation even more newsworthy is the fact that the federal government’s involvement in the matter was initiated by

 a complaint filed by Baylor’s former Title IX coordinator, Patty Crawford, according the press secretary for the Office for Civil Rights. In recent weeks, Crawford resigned and went public with claims that Baylor had stymied her and had then retaliated against her while she was still working at the university.

What this means is that Baylor’s Title IX compliance officer — the person who was most familiar with what Baylor was and wasn’t doing to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws — has said that Baylor was actively obstructing her from doing her job and retaliating against her when she didn’t back down.  You can see her interview with CBS This Morning here.

Obstruction of Compliance Officers Is All Too Common

obstruction-compliance-officer-baylorUnfortunately, what Patty Crawford experienced is not unique.  Companies like Dell, Cigna and Toshiba have faced public lawsuits filed by HR officials based on similar claims.

Both Title IX compliance officers and Title VII HR and Ombudspeople too often discover that senior leadership is only paying lip service to antidiscrimination ideals.  When it comes time to actually prevent, investigate or respond to discrimination in the classroom or the workplace, many would rather protect their own institution and sweep problems under the rug.

Sometimes, HR and compliance officers can be part of the problem.  In fact, in the Baylor case, plaintiffs claim that Patty Crawford and her office didn’t do enough investigate and respond to their complaints regarding rape.  Whether this is another example of the consequences of a university’s obstruction of Title IX compliance officers or whether this is an example of Crawford failing to do as much as she could have remains to be seen.

What is clear is that so long as senior leadership prioritizes protection of self over empowering its HR and compliance officers to fully enforce antidiscrimination laws, then the promise of those laws cannot be fully realized.

Katherine Kimpel

Kate Kimpel is the Senior Editor of Shattering the Ceiling and is also an accomplished civil rights lawyer. She represents women and people of color in discrimination cases (and other kinds of employment and civil rights matters).  When not lawyering, she likely is bragging about her hound dog Ulysses, inventing cocktails to serve at her next dinner party, or convincing her husband to watch reruns of a Joss Whedon television show (any of them will do). 

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