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As reported by the New York Times on Friday, April 5, 2013 - www.nytimes.com - athletic director at Rutgers University, Tim Pernetti, "resigned" two days after the firing of head basketball coach, Mike Rice, amidst the fallout over Rutgers' investigation into allegations of player abuse by by the former head coach.  In particular, as caught on video and now published via You Tube, Mr. Rice was accused of regularly using profane language with his players, throwing basketballs at their heads and bodies during practice, and otherwise engaging in behavior unbecoming a supposed leader of young men.

 

What is as remarkable as the allegations themselves is the apparent mismangement and lack of coordination of the investigation into the above described behavior.  As reported by the New York Times, at first, Tim Pernetti suspended the former head coach for the matter, but now, amidst his "resignation" and declaration that he is a "scapegoat," is claiming that he initially recommended termination, but "Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel."  However, Robert L. Barachi, president at Rutgers, indicated last Friday that he has no recollection of Mr. Pernetti recommending discharge for Mr. Rice, but rather only the suspension that was originally imposed.

 

Further, Rutgers' retained outside counsel's investigation, that was also released last Friday, concluded that while Mr. Rice's outbursts "were not isolated" and that he "had a fierce temper, used homophobic and misogynistic slurs, kicked his players and threw basketballs at them," his methods ".....were within the bounds of proper conduct and training methods."  To make matters worse for Rutgers, a large donor has now announced that he is withholding his largest gift to date to the university as the dust surrounding this unfortunate event settles.

 

Needless to say, the finger pointing and the debate about who knew what and when will continue as this sad saga comes to its conclusion.  For purposes of this post, however, it is an excellent reminder to employers that a workplace investigation must be carefully coordinated, expeditious and thorough, kept as confidential as appropriate and as possible, and ultimately decisive in its conclusions and proposed resolution.  From what we publicly know about Rutgers' handling of this matter, none of these fundamental principles were followed, and now the university and several individuals are paying a severe price.

 

Don't let lack of preparation make your organization the next "Rutgers."  Plan today, put your response team in place (include counsel), set forth your organization's plan for handling investigations (i.e., identification of key persons and witnesses, proper documentation, maintenance of an investigation file, etc.), and then execute when necessary.

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