What should I expect from this?
August 22, 2016 7:57 PM   Subscribe

I've been named a witness in a sexual discrimination case and am unsure how to respond.

Note: This is on behalf of charred husk's wife.
A coworker was recently let go at the school I teach at. She has contacted me to let me know that state's civil right's commission will be calling me about her sex discrimination suit. She says if none of her witnesses give statements or affidavits then her case will be dropped.

I intend to be as honest as possible but I don't know what they're going to ask. I was not a direct witness to anything and only know about it from my coworker telling me.

What kinds of questions will I be asked? Should I do this at all since I wasn't a direct witness to anything? What is expected of me in general here? I'm hesitant to have my name on a lawsuit against my workplace when I was not a witness to anything.
posted by charred husk to Law & Government (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there a teachers' union? If so, ask your union rep.

If they ask you what you saw, you can tell them the truth: nothing.

I am unclear from this question whether you heard any idle gossip about this issue when it was supposedly happening, or if your coworker telling you about the investigation is the first you've heard about it. If you really had no idea until now, tell them that.

If they ask you what rumors you heard at the time, you can tell them you're not comfortable discussing that without your lawyer present.

Depending on where you are working, if you are a mandated reporter and a child was involved, hearing rumors can count as "failed to report." Better safe than sorry-- talk to a lawyer.

(I am nobody's lawyer. I am not a lawyer. I did work in a school district, and I have been involved in hiring/firing decisions based on others' misconduct.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:26 PM on August 22, 2016

Consult a lawyer in your area.

(Generally, even though you didn't witness anything firsthand, you may be being called if you can corroborate that the person told you about the incident at the time it happened.)
posted by sallybrown at 8:31 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just tell them what you know. If you don't know, then say you don't know. If they ask you what you heard, you can tell them what you heard. I would probably also advise the friend that that's all you can do.

You should be able to consult with a union rep (they have lawyers on staff for stuff like this!) about this if you want. I would, if I were in your position.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:54 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am not a lawyer. You should consult one. This is not yet a lawsuit. Lawsuits cost money and necessitate hiring an attorney by the plaintiff. Filing a case with the State's Civil Rights Commission costs either nothing or very little. It is a way for a plaintiff to get discovery on the cheap. If the CRC finds fault, it makes a civil suit for damages a lot easier to win or to settle.

If it were me, I would consult an attorney with the expectation I wanted to answer questions if called. When answering questions, I would make it very clear what you have direct knowledge of and what you know or have heard 2nd hand. If contacted, I would ask if they can send you their questions via email or in writing and you will respond in kind. It gives you a chance to be clear about what is 1st hand knowledge and what is 2nd hand. Can also have an attorney help draft the answers.
posted by AugustWest at 8:58 PM on August 22, 2016

They are going to ask you for corroborating evidence probably: stuff like did the coworker send you a text about the incident, did they tell you, did you tell anyone else, do you still have the text, do you remember when it happened.

Not remembering any details or when things happened is normal, cop shows where people remember details from 3 years ago are total bullshit. They may ask you the same question over and over to jog your memory (oh right, it was the day I got a root canal, I remember because....etc). Mostly it sounds like they will be interested in corroboration so if she did send you texts or emails at the time may as well bring them.

And just be honest. If the co-worker said you saw something you didn't that is not your problem, tell the truth. If someone is going to get into trouble that again is not your problem, tell the truth. Consult your union rep about refusing to do it at all or refusing to answer certain questions. Or see if your employer offers a free lawyer service.
posted by fshgrl at 9:11 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (This is Charred Husk) School is non-union. I'll see if any of my patent lawyers can recommend the proper type of attorney but I have no idea how we'll pay for it. We're in the red right now as it is.
posted by charred husk at 4:07 AM on August 23, 2016

Your state bar/bar association should have a Lawyer Referral Service to help you find the right kind of attorney, licensed and in good standing in your state.

Because this is a discrimination case, the Commission might be investigating for evidence of a pattern of discriminatory behavior as well as evidence of specific events. You may be asked general questions about your working environment as well as specific questions about behaviors/incidents.

Good luck!
posted by Schielisque at 7:09 AM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Well, the right kind of attorney is an employment attorney and you can find a reference at NELA. This is my wife's practice area and it is pretty unusual for a witness to seek representation, but it has happened. It is pretty likely that there is no legal way for the school to seek reprisals against you for your testimony for a variety of reasons. If it became a lawsuit and you had material information you are actually obligated to testify if called upon and I don't see why you wouldn't. Particularly since your testimony appears to be that you are unaware of any discrimination. Having heard her version verbally has essentially no evidentiary value. I personally don't see the value in hiring an attorney in this particular case. If you had significant evidence to offer that you would afraid would lead to reprisal or form the basis of your own claim, then yes. As you describe the facts, I don't see the value.

At this state investigation stage there are four potential outcomes ranked in order of most likely to least likely:

1) The state finds insufficient evidence to support a claim and washes their hands of it.
2) Your friend decides to take the case to court on her own by hiring an attorney to pursue the case independent of the state
3) The state decides that the school was in fact out of line and pursues a remedy where the school will settle
4) The state ends up taking the case to trial.

In terms of what they will ask, they will have a record of what your friend told them and they will try to determine if you can corroborate anything she said. They'll want you to describe any specific events that you were a witness to, probably focusing on whether or not you heard supervisors say or do anything that contributed to a hostile work environment or that made you feel uncomfortable or discriminated against.

If you really feel uncomfortable, an employment attorney will have more details about the process in your state and what the legal protections are to prevent your employer from taking adverse action against you for anything you say. I would think the most you would need is a short hour long consultation which should be anywhere from $100 to $250 or so.
posted by Lame_username at 11:37 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

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