The Mayor of Toronto is a controversial figure, according to a blog written by Todd Humber the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter. The Mayor has now exacerbated a controversy by ill chosen words.
Apparently last week, he attended a political party at which his former opponent also attended. After they posed together for a photo op, the opponent, a woman, posted on Facebook that the Mayor had groped her and made suggestive comments. Mr. Humber rightly questioned “the wisdom of laying such a charge via social media,” but the Mayor’s responsive statement is what caught the attention of the reporter: “I’ve always said I don’t know if she’s playing with a full deck.”
Let Humber caution those accused of harassment:
“Denying the accusation is one thing. At the moment, only two people really know what happened … and they’re telling different stories. It’s impossible to objectively know who is telling the truth. But, in a sexual harassment allegation, it’s never a smart move to try to sway opinion by questioning the accuser’s sanity. Politics is a different animal than corporate life, but that’s a tactic that could lead to a pretty expensive judgment if a CEO or business leader tried it out.”
Thomson, the opponent, replied to the Mayor:
“Decades ago, powerful men who sexually assaulted women would call them ‘hysterical’ or ‘crazy’ to debase their credibility. It pushed many assaulted women into silence. Today Mayor Ford stated he wondered if I was ‘playing with a full deck’ to try to discredit me. He will not push me in to silence and I hope his accusations do not reignite the old fears that once silenced women.”
What’s the take away from this story for employers? While social media is not the place to make serious accusations that belong in court, or in an internal company investigation, Humber says that “[c]harges of sexual harassment should never be taken lightly. It requires a full investigation into the alleged wrongdoing, sometimes by third-party professionals. But the last reaction any leader should have is to try and discredit the accuser. There’s nothing wrong with strongly denying it happened, if that’s the case, or laying out a solid case in your defense. But name calling? That’s not even acceptable on the playground.”