Insight: investigating sexual harassment in the US entertainment industry

Posted by on Oct 18, 2019

This week Justitia was fortunate to host the Australasian Association of Workplace Investigators’ (AAWI) Melbourne Local Circle for a presentation by visiting US workplace investigator, Michael Robbins. Michael practised as a labour and employment lawyer for over 20 years before establishing EXTTI (Expert Testimony Training Investigations). He is a highly credentialed workplace investigator with particular (and timely) expertise in conducting sexual harassment investigations in the entertainment industry.

Michael shared his insights into the challenges of workplace investigations in the entertainment industry and how workplace investigation practices differ between the US, Australia and elsewhere.

These are the top three things that I took from his presentation:

  • It is becoming increasingly common for organisations in the entertainment industry to terminate their contract with an individual who is accused of sexual harassment, or for that individual to walk away from the contract, before an investigation has been conducted. This can create difficulties for the investigator, investigating after the departure, because the client may be seeking an outcome that justifies the termination. Investigators are of course only as good as their reputation, so resisting this pressure is critical.
  • A by-product of the publicity that surrounds investigations in the entertainment industry is that organisations sometimes don’t hire experienced workplace investigators but high-profile lawyers with unrelated expertise instead. Why? Because it sounds good! News that a former judge or former district attorney has been engaged to investigate sends a positive message to the general public that the organisation is taking the matter seriously.
  • Ordinarily, where the alleged conduct is also potentially criminal conduct under investigation by the police, it is unusual for a respondent to engage with the workplace investigator. Not so in the entertainment industry. High-profile individuals sometimes feel they need to respond to the investigator to avoid the negative publicity of not responding.

Thanks to Michael and his partner, Catherine Balin (also an experienced human resources consultant, executive coach and workplace investigator with EXTTI), for taking the time out of their holiday to join us at the Local Circle meeting. The opportunity to engage with our international colleagues is always thought-provoking and we look forward to more such opportunities at next week’s AAWI Conference.