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Facebook, blogs, Twitter, on-line petitions - Social
media is leveling the public relations playing field. Gone are the days
when big business controlled the media. Today, a disgruntled employee can
fight back using social media. Using these new tools, former "water
cooler" complaints can literally and quickly broadcast around the globe.
The recent firing of Virginia Commonwealth University
volleyball coach James Finley provides a case in point.
On December 20, 2012, VCU issued a press
release announcing that its "exhaustive investigation" into the non-renewal
of Coach James Finely's contract found that Coach Finley's claim of sexual
orientation discrimination was unfounded. VCU President validated not
only the findings of the report but the investigation process and said, "I
continue to have confidence in the process that produced the report and in Ed
McLaughlin as VCU's athletic director."
Coach Finley did not agree with the findings.
Unlike, however, employees in the pre-social media world who might simply have
retained an attorney and filed a lawsuit, he and his supporters are fighting
back using social media. Here are two examples of their efforts.
Facebook Page: Reinstate
VCU Volleyball Coach James Finley
Shortly after VCU issued its press release, Coach Finley
posted the following statement on Facebook:
I'm obviously disappointed in the outcome of VCU's
initial investigation into my discrimination complaint. I am dismayed by the
poor quality of the investigative procedures followed and by numerous factual
inaccuracies included in the report that appear to provide the basis for the
conclusion reached. This is particularly disturbing since the report fails to
address my complaint of discriminatory treatment, and the procedures
followed provided me with no opportunity to respond to any of the erroneous
information brought forward in the investigation to justify the action taken.
In addition, I am concerned that the damage to me and my reputation from this
flawed investigation is being magnified by disclosures of inaccurate
information by persons associated with VCU. Despite VCU's official statements
that my complaint and the investigation are confidential personnel matters,
there appears to be no effort by VCU to prevent disclosure to the media of
information from the report or inaccuracies contained therein by persons on
VCU's payroll or under VCU's control.
I am going to take time over the holidays to review with
counsel all of the options available to challenge the report and its findings.
I thank all of my many friends and supporters at VCU, in the Richmond community
and across the country for your outpouring of love and support, and I ask for
your patience as I carefully consider all of the options available and discuss
with my family the best course for us to pursue going forward."
Online Petition: VCU
President Michael Rao: Reinstate Coach Finley!
There is also an online petition asking VCU President to
"welcome Coach Finley back on campus." The petition was created on the
site www.Change.org that describes
itself as "the world's largest petition platform, empowering people everywhere
to create the change they want to see." As Change.org points out
"[g]athering people behind a cause used to be difficult, requiring lots of
time, money, and a complex infrastructure. But technology has made us more
connected than ever."
As I write this post, the Change.org site says there are
"43,067 supporters" who have signed the following petition:
Michael Rao, VCU President
We're asking you to reconsider the decision made by VCU's
Athletic Director to fire Coach Finley. As a school built upon the values of
inclusion and diversity, VCU has an opportunity to lead a national conversation
to ensure that one's work is judged solely by their success, not by their
sexual orientation or gender identity. We urge you to overturn this decision
and to reinstate Coach Finley in time to usher our volleyball team into another
Insights for Employers
Now, perhaps more than ever, it is important that in
addition to developing proper and effective EEO and anti-harassment policies,
employers need to adopt effective policies and procedures for investigating
workplace complaints. In today's new world, an employee who is dissatisfied
with an employer's investigation into his or her concern is not limited to
grousing to co-workers or quietly filing a complaint with the government or
hiring a lawyer.
Smart employers recognize that it is no longer sufficient
to comply simply with the minimal legal standards in responding to employee
complaints. Rather, they are working to implement policies and procedures
for internal investigations that comply not only with the law but also adhere
to the principles of procedural fairness. One of the key principles of
procedural fairness is "voice" or the opportunity to participate in the review
of the complaint.
In the VCU matter, one of Coach Finley's primary
criticisms of the investigation seems to be that he was given "no opportunity
to respond to any of the erroneous information brought forward." Of
course, given that the VCU investigation report has not yet been made public we
have no way of evaluating for ourselves this claim. It is worth noting,
however, that the principles of procedural fairness (as well as good internal
workplace investigation practice) would dictate that Coach Finley should have
been provided the opportunity to have his "voice" heard before the final
conclusions were reached in the investigation.
Read more articles about managing
workplace conflict at Win-Win HR, hosted by Lorene Schaefer.
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