Blackhawks in the Penalty Box: Why Safe Workplaces & Timely Investigations Are So Important

Blackhawks in the Penalty Box: Why Safe Workplaces & Timely Investigations Are So Important

A former Chicago Blackhawks player filed suit against the team in May, alleging it did nothing after he reported that a former assistant coach, Bradley Aldrich, sexually assaulted him in 2010. As with all sexual assault cases, the allegations are disturbing. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the player, identified as John Doe, claims that he went to Aldrich’s apartment under the premise that they were going to review game clips. Then Aldrich allegedly used a Chicago Cubs memorabilia baseball bat and threatening language to keep Doe inside his apartment and perform “lewd and lascivious” acts.

Doe reported the incident to Hawks coaches. One allegedly convinced Doe he was responsible for the incident and another told a group of Hawks executives. The sports franchise did not report the incident to the police and allegedly never performed an investigation. According to WBEZ, Aldrich left the Hawks in July 2010, and joined the USA Hockey Women’s National Team in November 2010.

The lawsuit alleges that Doe was “subject to homophobic [slurs] and ‘humiliating trash talking’ relating to the incident for years at hockey practices and scrimmages at which Hawks-employed coaches were present.” The team allegedly did nothing to stop the continued harassment.

More sexual assault cases involving Aldrich have garnered media attention since the filing of the lawsuit. NBC Chicago notes that an amended filing reveals police reports were filed against Aldrich as early as 2005 for inappropriate misconduct involving minor players that Aldrich was coaching. In 2012, WBEZ reported that a college hockey player from Miami University told the police that Aldrich assaulted him. Aldrich resigned from the school after a different victim reported sexual assault to the police.

In fact, a second J. Doe filed a lawsuit against the Hawks in May, claiming the team covered up Aldrich’s abuse of two Hawks players and provided positive employment references, which allowed Aldrich to become employed elsewhere and continue his predatory behavior. In 2013, while Aldrich was working as a high school hockey coach, a student—the second J. Doe—reported to the police that he had been sexually assaulted. Aldrich confessed to the assault in 2013 and is now a registered sex offender.

Chicago attorney Susan Loggans is representing both J. Does. She said, “[h]ad this been stopped with the Blackhawks, none of this would [be] likely to have occurred. And the same thing is true with [Miami University].” She also underscored the importance of meaningful workplace investigations: “Had they at that moment stopped and done a complete investigation, certainly Aldrich wouldn’t have been hired downstream and been given the opportunity to molest [my client.]”

This case makes clear that sexual assault affects people of any age, sex, or gender, and that it is imperative for employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment. Just as crucial is conducting timely and thorough workplace investigations, which help clarify what took place and stop bad actors before they cause additional harm. Certain steps are critical for reducing the risk of harassment in the workplace:

  1. Adopt a clear policy forbidding sexual harassment. Having clear written policies is one of the most important things a business can do to set expectations for its workers. Sexual harassment must be taken seriously and any complaints handled swiftly and thoroughly. A policy should apply to both “on duty” and “off duty” conduct. Implementing and consistently following a strong policy builds trust and confidence among employees.
  1. Provide training on recognizing and reporting sexual harassment. Sometimes harassment is not so obvious. Education and training provide employees with the tools necessary to recognize less obvious forms of harassment and know what steps to take when harassment occurs, such as how to report it and how to access resources.
  1. Conduct a thorough investigation. Separately sit down with all individuals involved and gather all relevant evidence. The complainant may provide text messages or social media communications. Company property might also be involved, including emails or videos. Be wary of using police records, as some states prohibit such use. After the investigation has occurred, write a report on the findings and keep it in a secure place.
  1. Take corrective measures. Often, an employee who has filed a complaint believes that nothing has been done. To combat this misperception, inform the employee that an investigation has occurred and relay the outcome of the investigation to the extent that you can, keeping confidentiality concerns in mind. Terminating an employee will be a clear signal that action has been taken. But when termination is not warranted, it will often be best to maintain separation between the complainant and perceived harasser.
  1. Maintain confidentiality. As the Hawks case shows, failing to keep sexual harassment reports confidential can result in further harassment. Refrain from providing unnecessary details when interviewing employees and inform them of their duty to maintain confidentiality. Management should address any rumors immediately and with sensitivity to the myriad personal and professional interests that might be at stake.
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