Nassar Abuse Conviction Provides Important Lessons For Employers

Posted by Kenneth N. Winkler on

Larry Nassar, the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and the former team doctor at Michigan State University (MSU), was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison after being convicted for criminal sexual conduct.  The amount of reported abuse by the victims is horrific.  Over 150 women and girls made victim statements prior to the sentencing. As the story unfolds, more questions will be asked about how this happened for so many years and who knew about the abuse but looked the other way.  There will undoubtedly be a number of people whose employment will end when information about their knowledge or blindness to the situation under their watch is exposed.  With investigations opening by the Department of Education and the NCAA, already MSU’s president Lou Anna Simon has resigned and its athletic director has retired.  Sadly, we have seen this type of situation play out in the wake of the Sandusky-Penn State University child abuse scandal and the #MeToo campaign.  The most important lesson from this story is that protecting the welfare of children over institutional reputation is paramount.  From a human resources perspective, it also stresses the need to confront problems when they arise and not look the other way.   When an employer is put on notice of alleged misconduct, especially assaults and discriminatory or harassing behavior, it is imperative that the employer promptly and thoroughly investigate the matter and take corrective action where appropriate.  Too often, employers make an improper cost-benefit analysis when faced with information and/or allegations of misconduct.  This is especially true when claims of harassment are asserted against a highly-valued employee, or in the case of Nassar, a well-recognized employee. Now is the time for employers to review policies and practices and take the necessary steps to prevent abuse and harassment.