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Steps Nonprofits Can Take To Limit Sexual Harassment Risk

Written exclusively for ChubbWorks for Not-for-Profit Zone

Yale University and several of the fraternities active on its campus face a lawsuit from three female students who accuse them of gender discrimination and encouraging sexual harassment.

According to the students, their legal action comes after several efforts to prompt university administration and fraternity leadership to allow women and nonbinary students to join the fraternities. The women, as part of a student advocacy group, argue that integrating women into a fraternity will reduce the likelihood of sexual misconduct among fraternity members.

In response, one fraternity granted women access to their rush program, but eventually denied them membership, citing national chapter restrictions on accepting females.

The university's response pointed to a report released by the college dean that examined student perceptions of Greek life and confirmed the school's commitment to discipline sexual misconduct on campus. The Dean also stated he has no authority to sanction fraternities, as they are not officially part of the university.

A statement from the North American Interfraternity Conference argues that "single-sex student organizations should be an option - a choice - for students." Asha Prihar & Audrey Steinkamp "Female students sue Yale, frats" (Feb. 13, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

A debate exists as to whether integrating women into a fraternity would limit sexual harassment.

What is not a debate is that nonprofit organizations can limit their risk of harassment claims, and potential litigation, by first creating anti-discrimination and harassment policies and consistently following them.

Nonprofit leadership must also make sexual harassment a priority by taking steps to address it and eventually eliminate it. Consider these other suggestions:

  • Incorporate behavior standards into your sexual harassment policy and spell out disciplinary measures for individuals who violate those standards.
  • Make sure everyone who works or volunteers for the nonprofit is trained on the subject of sexual harassment, what constitutes harassment and how to avoid circumstances that present the most risk. Provide strategies on how bystanders can step in to stop boundary violations from escalating into harassment.
  • Encourage reporting of sexual harassment, emphasizing how ignoring harassing behavior only damages the organization in the long run.
  • Consider allowing members to report anonymously to a neutral third party like a hot line.
  • Address all reports harassment, and discipline anyone who violates behavior policies in a consistent and timely manner.
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