Dallas Mavericks – A Lesson in the Importance of Employee Trust

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 9.50.52 AMI remember shortly after joining the in-house legal team at a Fortune 500 company 20+ years ago, a co-worker taking me to lunch and saying, “don’t trust HR; they are the company spies.”

Over the years as I built a career in corporate compliance and independent investigations, I’ve thought a lot about that comment and the importance of employees trusting their leaders – especially HR.  If the allegations contained in the Sports Illustrated article “Inside the Corrosive Workplace of the Dallas Mavericks” are accurate, because Mavericks employees didn’t trust HR they refrained from reporting concerns about sexual harassment and workplace misconduct.

To state the obvious, an organization cannot investigate and address alleged harassment or misconduct it doesn’t know about.  So, how does an organization create a culture of compliance where employees trust HR and management enough to report their concerns internally so that the company can address those concerns?  Here are 6 tips.

6 Tips to Increase Employee Trust and Encourage Internal Reporting

  • Humanize the reporting experience.  Selection of the person(s) who will receive employee concerns is critical. Approachability and accessibility are key components of procedural fairness, particularly when an employer may already be viewed as intimidating or formidable. Intake personnel should be marketed with professional pictures and bios, including languages spoken, that present them as trustworthy and engaging.
  • Explain what you’re doing and why.  For many employees, raising a concern may be a traumatic event. The jargon of procedures can intimidate, confuse, and overwhelm employees or heighten fears of retaliation, pushing employees into the arms of government agents, union stewards, and the Plaintiffs Bar. Know that your “competition” (i.e. the Plaintiffs  Bar, government agencies and union stewards) uses simple, explanatory terms that are inviting. So should you.  Further, reassure reporting employees that retaliation is prohibited for raising a concern in good faith.
  • Manage expectations.  If an investigation is warranted, explain how the investigator will be selected and the anticipated timing of the investigation. Establish a process that provides the reporting employee periodic “updates” that assures them that their concern is receiving appropriate attention, even though details may not be part of these updates.
  • Carefully select a well-trained and neutral investigator with strong communication skills.  Research shows that the trustworthiness of the investigator, as perceived by the reporting employee, is critical to whether the reporting employee believed the investigation was procedurally fair.  When communicating with witnesses, the investigator must establish a professional degree of rapport through verbal and non-verbal communication, a relevant set of questions, and appropriate responses to witness reactions such that competence of ability is demonstrated, respectfully.
  • Close the loop with the reporting employee, accused and any witnesses interviewed.   “Closing the loop” with everyone who participated in the process is a critical step. Closing the loop means that participants are thanked for their participation, informed that the investigation concluded, and assured that appropriate measures were taken based on the results (the degree of detail may vary based on each situation and confidentiality concerns). This debrief is a “marketing” effort directed at company employees to reinforce the credibility of the process, assure employees that policies are followed consistently, and demonstrate that concerns are taken seriously without the need for involving external resources outside the company.
  • “Market” your reporting and compliance programs. Develop a communication plan and consider periodically sharing high level and appropriately sanitized summaries of compliance investigations and/or the types of numbers of reports being received that is appropriate for shareholders, employees, and executive leadership.




Conducting Internal Investigations of Executives: Legal & Ethical Considerations

Screen Shot 2017-07-06 at 9.59.19 AMI am pleased to announce that I will be speaking in an upcoming Strafford live webinar, “Conducting Internal Investigations of Executives for Workplace Misconduct: Legal and Ethical Considerations” scheduled for Thursday, July 13, 2017, 1:00pm-2:30pm EDT.  The webinar will provide guidance to employment counsel for identifying and addressing the myriad legal, strategic and ethical issues that commonly arise when conducting internal investigations of executives accused of workplace misconduct.  A live question and answer session will follow. I hope you’ll join us.

To register, click here or call 1-800-926-7926. Ask for the the Conducting Internal Investigations of Executives webinar on 07/13/2017.

If you contact me directly, I may be able to provide you with information to attend the program at a discount. My email address is: Lorene@WinWinHR.com

My law practice focuses exclusively on mediation and conducting privileged, impartial internal workplace investigations into allegations of misconduct, including harassment, retaliation, discrimination, and violations of company policy. I no longer litigate.  Rather, I use my 20+ years of litigation and in-house counsel experience together with proven investigative techniques to gather detailed facts, analyze relevant data, and provide sound, reasoned findings of fact.  Those findings of fact are then used by employers and their regular/litigation counsel to make informed and defensible employment decisions.

This webinar is designed to assist employment attorneys in advising their clients on the legal and strategic decisions regarding how to properly investigate an allegation of misconduct.  Failing to anticipate and prepare for the myriad legal, ethical and even public relations issues that accompany allegations against executives can exacerbate the situation and complicate matters for the employer.







Why are Interim Provost and Office of General Counsel at University of Cincinnati Refusing to Mediate?

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 3.53.12 PMAs has been reported in various media outlets, the Dean of the College of Law at the University of Cincinnati is in conflict with some of the tenured faculty over steps she’s taken to address the multi-million dollar budget deficit at the law school.

This conflict is not surprising. On the one side, you have long-tenured faculty who have grown accustomed to lax oversight and a vacuum of leadership created when both the President and Provost who hired Dean Bard left UC and the roles were filled with interim appointments.  On the other side, you have a new Dean who was hired by the prior President and Provost and given a mandate to lead the law school into the forefront of modern day legal education and address the budget deficit. She has done both. In fact, the National Jurist, a publication aimed at law school students, just ranked the law school in the top 20 law schools nationwide for practical training.

What is surprising is how the administration at the University of Cincinnati, has, to date, handled this conflict.

They’ve missed at least two opportunities to address this conflict in a productive, professional and respectful manner.

First Missed Opportunity: Despite agreement to do so, the Interim Provost refused to bring in a mediator to facilitate discussions between faculty and the Dean. He started on this path by agreeing to bring in a mediator to facilitate communications between the Dean and the Faculty. Unfortunately, he then refused to allow the Dean to bring in the mediator.

By contrast, Dean Bard continues to want to bring in a mediator to help facilitate the tough conversations that need to take place. As she said to the faculty in a March 15th email:

“I would like us to begin having the hard conversations that have to take place here to address our very pressing issues and I would like to work together in an atmosphere of respect and dignity with the entire law school community.  I still think we would benefit from expert help in getting these conversations going and I’m open to referrals.”

Second Missed Opportunity: The University’s Office of General Counsel declined a proposal by Dean Bard’s legal counsel to mediate the conflict. That rejection happened on March 6, 2017 and was – to say the least – surprising.

If ever there was a conflict that cried out for mediation this is it. Mediating these types of conflict has a number of advantages over litigating it or trying it in the press. Mediation is a professional and respectful way to resolve conflict that can be done privately. It also gives the parties closest to the conflict ultimate control over the outcome of the dispute.

Pursuant to Dean Bard’s 5-year employment contract, it is the Board of Trustees who will ultimately determine the outcome of this situation. Hopefully, the University’s President and Board of Trustees can weigh in and persuade the Interim Provost and the Office of General Counsel to mediate this before more damage is done to the reputations of the university, the law school and everyone involved.

The University of Cincinnati is a comprehensive public research university and a part of the University System of Ohio.  As a public university, one of its main sources of funding is “public money.” That funding comes with significant management responsibilities. I’d hate to see the University of Cincinnati face the kind of challenges that has plagued the University of Wisconsin. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported today, the University of Wisconsin at Madison has endured several years of budget cuts and the state government taking a stronger hand in its policies.

For anyone who agrees that this is a conflict best resolved in mediation vs. the press or the courtroom, here are the emails for UC’s President and Board of Trustees:

President: President@UC.edu

Board of Trustees: Board.Trustees@UC.edu

Disclaimer:   I am an alumni of the University of Cincinnati College of Law and am representing Dean Jennifer Bard in her attempts to address this situation through the use of mediation.

Emotional Outbursts in the Workplace – Tips for Self-Regulation

Emotional OutburstsUnfortunately, the majority of us have either had to deliver an unpleasant message or receive one.  It’s not fun.  In fact, we’re probably all familiar with the emotions that can well up within us in those situations.

Leaders who strive to cultivate a culture of integrity, trust and respect (presumably all leaders) consciously engage in self-regulation when encountering conversations and situations that are stressful.

The good news is that while some of us are naturally more emotionally impulsive, we can all learn to understand and recognize our emotions so that we improve our ability to monitor and control our own behavior, emotions, or thoughts, and adjust them according to the demands of the situation.

Leaders who consciously self-regulate are more effective.  Self-regulating leaders don’t generate distrust and disloyalty – resulting in higher employee turnover and a generally less productive work force.  I call this making “conscious conflict choices.”

Here are some tips for mitigating emotional outbursts and consciously engaging in self-regulation:

  • Pause for Perspective — The pause is what helps give us a moment to work through the “fight or flight” chemical reaction that gets triggered in stressful situations.
  • Be Curious — Ensuring we’ve heard and understood what the intended message is by asking questions is another tool to assist in self-regulation.
  • Avoid Character Attacks — In the workplace, it’s perfectly appropriate to stand up for a different point of view, but not at the expense of others, or for the purpose of humiliating them.  Personally attacking another does nothing to resolve conflict.  In fact, it generally creates negative perceptions on both sides. Respect the person, even if you disagree with their point of view or don’t like their behavior.


Chase Your Dreams!

Tamanie Worth ItToday’s blog isn’t about employment law or workplace conflict, but rather about the importance of chasing our dreams.

We all have a hobby or activity that makes us feel great – something that makes us feel like we can soar.

Too often as we get older we let life get in the way of our favorite hobbies and activities.

I’m thrilled to share this awesome music video just released by my friend who is a songwriter and singer. At 50+, she’s decided to go for it and chase her dreams!

And, yep … that’s me in the turquoise cowboy hat dancing. I too decided to go for it – can now check “be a backup dancer in a music video” off my bucket list …

Enjoy the video and go chase your dreams!  And, if you know anyone in the music industry please share the video and help my friend make her dream a reality!


Know Your Role: Title IX Coordinators

Courtney Bullard, Esq.

I’m honored to share this important guest blog with guidance for Title IX Coordinators by my Workplace Investigations Group colleague, Courtney Bullard, Esq.

Courtney is located in Chattanooga, TN and has practiced employment law for over 15 years, representing hundreds of private and public entities in harassment and discrimination charges and litigation. For 8 years, she served as a University system attorney where she advised on employment and Title IX investigations. Courtney regularly counsels employers on employment-law related matters and institutions in Title IX compliance. She specializes in Title IX investigations for private and public institutions. Courtney received her undergraduate degree from Indiana University and earned her J.D. from the University of Memphis School of Law where she served as Comments Editor of the Law Review.

Courtney can be contacted directly at chb@icslawyer.com or 423-757-0448.

Know Your Role – Title IX Coordinators

Guest Blog by Courtney Bullard, Esq.

Advocate, Educate, Collaborate

Your supervisor comes to you, perhaps even the president of your university, and informs you that in addition to your duties as the HR director, or a faculty member, or the Director of Office of Equity and Diversity, you will now serve as the Title IX Coordinator for the campus.  You are whisked off to an intensive training where it is like drinking from a compliance fire hose.  You learn about survivors, predators, complaint intake, interviews, training, investigations and statistics.  You learn about the Office of Civil Rights, Title IX, VAWA, and the Campus SaVe Act.  You learn about what your institution should be doing to comply with all of these federal laws.

You walk away thinking one or more of the following:

  1. You have 3 legal pads full of notes and lists of items that you are almost certain your institution is not doing and therefore your institution is not in compliance and therefore you are crossing your fingers and toes that this year is not the year your campus lands itself in a federal investigation, or worse, litigation;
  2. You have no idea where to begin but know that you have to begin somewhere (look for my article “Low Hanging Fruit”);
  3. Even if you fulfilled all of the items on your newly made list, there is no way your campus will ever reach institutional compliance.

Sound familiar?

The first step in adapting to your new responsibilities is simple in theory but often difficult in day to day execution and that is to know your role in institutional compliance.   The reality is, an enormous responsibility now rests at your feet.  Not only do you have a responsibility to the institution but you also have a responsibility to the students on your campus, especially those involved in a complaint, because their lives will be forever impacted.  I do not say this to scare you, but to ensure you understand the gravity and the importance of your position.

As you proceed in your new position, there are some tenants that will help you stay focused on your role and responsibilities as Title IX Coordinator.  These three tenants will provide you with a foundation to build on as you enter the compliance world, and are applicable to both novice Title IX Coordinators assuming multiple roles and those who are seasoned, dedicated, Title IX Coordinators.

Advocate:  First and foremost, you are an advocate for institutional compliance and this can become an unpopular position with your colleagues.  In that role, there will be times when there is the perception that you are advocating for a specific party involved in an allegation.  If, for example, you recommend interim measures that assist a complainant but inconvenience a respondent you may be perceived as being pro-complainant.  There will be times when you are mandating training in order to effectuate compliance and you encounter resistance from a division or department. There may be times where you have to recommend something to a superior that you know will be controversial or ignite conflict.  There will often be times when you are seen as making a process more difficult or cumbersome.  Remind yourself that your role is to advocate for and protect the institution at large, no matter how unpopular that position may be.

Educate:  If OCR comes on to your campus for an investigation, the first stop will be you. OCR expects you to have your finger on your campus’ compliance pulse.  Educate yourself on what is occurring on your campus by way of compliance.  Investigate the nooks and crannies of your campus that are not always seen and celebrated, but that you may discover are already doing something in furtherance of compliance such as training, for example.  In addition to familiarizing yourself with your campus, take opportunities to attend training whenever you can.  This will prove difficult in the midst of an already hectic schedule, but it is not only important to hone your craft but to provide you with an opportunity to commiserate with colleagues so that you know you are not alone.  Finally, educate yourself on what is going on in your region and also across the country.  Often the mistakes of other campuses can serve as learning opportunities that you can utilize on your own campus if a similar situation arises or as a tabletop exercise for your Title IX team.

Collaborate.  Set the tone early that your mission is to collaborate with colleagues in order to protect the institution and ultimately the parties involved in an investigation.  Take opportunities to get to know the colleagues that may be involved in an investigation so that you have a relationship before the stress of a report of an allegation or an investigation ensues.   There will be tension, there will be disagreement, but a well laid foundation of trust and collaboration will go a long way towards reaching a resolution that ultimately impacts your ability to do your job and your campus’ ability to comply with the law.  At the end of the day, your recommendations (hopefully with the assistance of experienced legal counsel during difficult cases) reign supreme over the agendas and missions of the divisions on your campus with regards to matters affecting Title IX compliance. The best way, however, to ensure that your recommendations are listened to and utilized is through the power of collaboration early on in the process.

Although this post is geared to the novice Title IX Coordinator, these tenants are good reminders for the seasoned Coordinator as well.  When you find yourself in a sticky situation, and most of them are, always take a step back and begin with the basics – Advocate, Educate and Collaborate.


workplace investigation training

Workplace Investigations Group offers a National Directory of well-qualified attorneys who conduct impartial workplace and Title IX investigations.  All of its workplace investigators have 10+ years of employment law experience and have agreed to support their responsibilities to the professional and impartial workplace investigations process and the parties that they serve. It also delivers training to in-house counsel, risk managers, human resources professionals and others on how to conduct internal investigations that will withstand third-party scrutiny.  Click here for information on upcoming training this week in Miami, Florida.

Join Me in Miami for Investigation Training!

workplace investigation training
It’s cold here in Atlanta and I’m excited to head to the beaches and warmer weather of Miami next week.  I’d love it if you joined me!

On Wednesday and Thursday (Feb. 17th and 18th) I’ll be teaching a two-day interactive training on how to conduct effective workplace investigations that will withstand scrutiny.  This course is specifically designed for HR professionals, EEO investigators, Title IX investigators, in-house counsel and other compliance professionals with responsibility for conducting impartial internal investigations.

This is my favorite course to teach and is a highly interactive class with exercises designed to put concepts into action in a mock-investigation setting where immediate feedback, tips, and discussion can occur in a productive and meaningful setting. Each attendee receives a manual that includes forms, case law, and other information and resources.

Upon request, HRCI credits will be applied for (this course has been previously approved over the past three years). After successful completion of the course, a certificate is issued to the registrant.

To view the full agenda and register, click here: http://www.internal-investigations.com/training-agendas-registration/


Caltech President & Provost Use Title IX Investigation to Drive Change

Kudos to CaltechKudos to Caltech’s President and Provost for their strong leadership in the wake of a Title IX investigation finding that a tenured professor had engaged in “unambiguous gender-based harassment” of two female graduate students.

Instead of hiding behind the typical curtain of confidentiality that shrouds Title IX investigations, the President and Provost issued a memorandum to the entire Caltech community stating that

[a]lthough the details [of the Title IX investigation] must remain confidential, we nevertheless feel that this situation is sufficiently important that enough information must be provided to permit our community to evaluate the situation and to contemplate the changes required to minimize the chances of anything like it happening again.

The memo went on to explain that following complaints by two graduate students that a faculty member had harassed them that a “comprehensive investigation” had been conducted by faculty committee who then reported to the provost. According to the memo, the faculty committee concluded and the provost concurred that “there was unambiguous gender-based harassment of both graduate students by the faculty member.”

Without identifying the names of the graduate students or the faculty member, the memo then outlined the disciplinary and remedial actions it had taken in response to the finding:

The faculty member was placed on unpaid leave for a full academic year, and he is restricted from coming on campus. Importantly, in order to make sure that the two students involved and other students are protected against continuation or new instances of such behavior – while also endeavoring to ensure that their academic progress is not adversely affected – communications between the faculty member and members of his group are being carefully monitored. In addition to these professional and financial sanctions, the suspended faculty member must undergo professional coaching and training in how to mentor students before returning to campus. A demonstrable change in behavior and mentoring approach will be required before unmonitored interactions with students can resume. Structural changes in the division’s advising approach are being put in place to ensure that students are properly and effectively mentored.

According to the memo, the faculty member appeal of the disciplinary actions was denied.

But …. The President and Provost didn’t stop there. They then used this Title IX investigation to help drive cultural change across the Caltech community, announcing three campus-wide initiatives as well as changes being made in every division across the university.

In reading the Caltech President and Provost’s memo, I couldn’t help but contrast their leadership in the wake of the allegations of harassment to that of the University of Missouri President’s self-proclaimed “inaction” in response to racially motivated incidents on campus.

Not only did Caltech’s leadership step up to the plate and promptly investigate and address the allegations of harassment as required by Title IX, but they seized the situation to help drive change across the university.

Kudos Caltech! Kudos!

The full Caltech memo can be read here.


workplace investigations groupAbout the author:  Lorene Schaefer, Esq. is an attorney who works as a mediator and impartial workplace and Title IX investigator and also serves as the President of Workplace Investigations Group.  Workplace Investigations Group offers a National Directory of well-qualified attorneys who conduct impartial workplace and Title IX investigations.  All of its workplace investigators have 10+ years of employment law experience and have agreed to support their responsibilities to the professional and impartial workplace investigations process and the parties that they serve. It also delivers training to in-house counsel, risk managers, human resources professionals and others on how to conduct internal investigations that will withstand third-party scrutiny.  Click here for information on upcoming training in Washington D.C., Miami, FL, Las Vegas, NV, Chicago, IL, Cincinnati, OH, St. Louis, MO, and Newton, MA.

Employment Law Blog Carnival: A Festival of Lessons

Festival of Lessons Employment Law Blog Carnival‘Tis the season — celebrations, festivals and observations:  Hanukka, Boxing Day, Omisoka, St. Lucia Day, Ramadan, Saturnalia, Bodhi Day, Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Yule, Kwanzaa, Three Kings Day, Eid al-Fitr, Saint Nicholas Day, Christmas.

Not to be outdone, my fellow employment law bloggers and I have joined right in with our own “Festival of Lessons” for this December edition of the Employment Law Blog Carnival.  A special thanks to all the great bloggers who contributed this month and for allowing me to host this esteemed group.

Now let the Festival of Lessons begin!!

Lesson of Thankfulness

In too many workplaces, HR professionals work tirelessly with little thanks for their efforts. Vanessa Goddard is out to change that with this poem of holiday thanks:  ‘Twas the Holiday Season:  Here We Go Again

Lesson on Internal Investigations

Higher education and sports teams have been in the headlines recently for their poor handling on internal investigations into claims of harassment and discrimination. Per Jennifer Keaton, the University of Minnesota is an exception and she highlights in her lesson on internal investigations Three Things the University Did Right that Most Employers do Wrong.

Lesson of Generosity

Yes, there is such a thing as being too generous — at least in the workplace. As Sharlyn Lauby points out in her lesson on generosity, sometimes engaging in generosity can generate unintended legal risks — Handling a Negative Sick Pay Balance.

Lesson on Anti-Muslim Rants

Given the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., I think we can expect that in at least some workplaces someone is going to go on an anti-muslim rant. Donna Ballman is exactly right in her important lesson that unless the employer “shut[s] them down speedy quick,” Those Anti-Muslim Rants Are Going To Get You Sued.

Lesson on Harassment

Many employees mistakenly believe that any negative interaction constitutes illegal harassment.  Not the case. Click here to read Stuart Rudner’s lesson on why Managing is Not Harassment.

Lesson on Holiday Pay

The holidays are a hectic shopping period with extended hours and Doug Hass rightfully reminds employers that this is also a time when retailers need to be especially mindful of their obligations under the FLSA and state and local laws, especially in light of the Department of Labors Recent Outreach to Retailers’ Employees.

Lesson on Holiday Parties

There’s an old joke among employment lawyers that we get some of our best cases (read high legal fees) as a result of holiday parties run amok. Be sure to read Andrea Paris’ Holiday Party Checklist for Employers to learn your lessons now and avoid being that employer.

Lesson on Social Media

Thanks to Eric B. Meyer for this reminder that Yes, Employees Can Fight Workplace Harassment with Social Media. In this important lesson for employers, he urges them to not make social media a measure of first resort for your employees, but rather to provide multiple direct and effective methods for employees to address their concerns and improve the workplace.

Lesson on Weapons at Work

Given the instances of workplace violence in the news, many employers are considering banning weapons at work. Janette Levey Frisch warns that may or may not be possible depending on state and local laws in her blog Can You Ban Weapons in the Workplace?

Lesson on National Origin Discrimination

Among Title VII’s less-used provisions is its prohibition of discrimination on the basis of “national origin” and as Robert Fitzpatrick rightly points a plethora of open issues remain with these types of discrimination cases. Click here to read Fitzpatrick’s analysis of a recent New Mexico case where the Court Recognized a Claim of National Origin Discrimination Based on Non-Hispanic Status and Rejected the Heightened Proof Standard for Non-Minority Claims.

Lesson on Job Descriptions

Too many employers either don’t have job descriptions or have poorly written job descriptions that are creating undue legal risk. The good news for readers of this blog – Bill Goren has some great lessons for us all in What’s Wrong with This Job Description? Let Me Count the Ways.

Lesson on Alcoholism and Disability

By now, most everyone in the HR profession has been challenged with managing the legal risks associated with disciplining or terminating an alcoholic as alcoholism is considered a disability under the Americans with Disability Act as well as most, if not all, state disability laws. Robin Shea has some great lessons for us all in her take on the Trojan Travails and Coach Sarkisian’s Alcoholism-Discrimination Lawsuit Against USC.

Lesson on Accommodating Hearing Loss

According to a 2011 study led by researchers from Johns Hopkins, nearly 20% of Americans 12 and older have hearing loss so severe that it may make communication difficult.  Given this large percentage, most employers will at some point be faced with a duty to accommodate an employee or applicant who has, due to illness or age, acquired hearing related problems. The good news for readers of this blog is that Mike Haberman has some excellent lessons and suggestions for Accommodating the “Hard of Hearing” Employee.




Good Will Hunting and Workplace Investigations: Vigilance Against Bias

Mark Flynn, Esq., SPHRToday’s thought-provoking guest blog is from my colleague in Workplace Investigations Group, Mark Flynn, Esq., SPHR.  Mark is an employment attorney in Denver, Colorado and founder of Employment Matters LLC and Flynn Investigations Group (“EMFIG”). Mark started EMFIG to continue his specialization in conducting workplace investigations and providing counseling and training seminars on employment matters. He views compliance and conflict resolution as fundamental to a preventive law approach to promote effective, prosperous workplace and school environments. Previously, Mark worked at a 3,000-member employers association for over 18 years, where he developed and managed a team of investigators performing over 100 investigations annually.

Good Will Hunting and Workplace Investigations:  Vigilance Against Bias

by Mark Flynn, Esq., SPHR

I like to ask the “favorite movie” question and Good Will Hunting is a popular pick in my experience. To Good Will Hunting fans I sometimes present a “did you notice” question.

It starts with recollection of a favorite scene in the movie – when Will (Matt Damon) steps into Chuck’s (Ben Affleck’s) conversation at a bar with a Harvard Grad student intent on sabotaging Chuck’s attempt to meet two “Harvard hunnies” (Minnie Driver and friend). Will proceeds to dress him down as a parrot of published works on American history without an original thought of his own. Juxtapose that scene with Sean (Robin Williams) and Will’s “Taster’s Choice moment between guys” on a bench overlooking a pond. Will aggravates Sean to violence in their previous meeting, but now Sean explains finding calm after realizing that Will doesn’t know what he is talking about, even if Will’s genius enables his command of any subject still short of personal experience: “I can’t learn anything from you that I can’t read in a [expletive] book.” It’s the same valid criticism that Will levels at the Harvard Grad student and provides a lesson in humility.

Discovering the hypocrisy of our own thinking or behavior can make for profound revelation. Ideally, it inspires responsible cautiousness and self-examination. The life lesson is a great tool for workplace and school investigators – and managers and executives too.

Conducting workplace investigations demands humility more than self-assurance. The most effective and reliable investigators perceive themselves small rather than big.

Starting from a stance of “I don’t know” helps avoid assumptions and drives the initial, primary goal of hearing each side of the story before reaching conclusions. From there, acknowledge your susceptibility to biases. Biases derive from implicit reliance on stereotypes born from individual life experiences, environment, and culture. Every point of view is a view from a point and no person escapes the human condition. Any absolute denial of personal prejudice, conscious or unconscious, is at best unpersuasive and at worst dishonest.

The on-going study of bias is fascinating. The multiple forms of cognitive bias, like Confirmation Bias and Halo Effect, as well as Implicit Association Tests and Heuristics are engrossing, even to laymen – at least this layman. The reliability of implicit bias evidence in employment discrimination litigation is far from settled with strong opinions on both sides of the issue, and separate legal-eagle debate over the centrality of causation versus discriminatory intent for disparate treatment claims. In any case, the good news is that social science suggests that individuals can control even implicit biases with various forms of conscious effort – including articulating opinions or decisions in writing (my personal favorite). Self-awareness and recognition of our essential subjectivity supports vigilance against bias in the workplace, investigations, and in life.