Initiating a complaint
The complaint process starts when the Sexual Harassment Officer receives a written formal complaint from the complainant. This complaint describes the alleged events, identifies the respondent by name, and is signed and dated.
The Sexual Harassment Officer contacts the respondent (the person responding to the complaint) as soon as possible; they meet to discuss the complaint and the complaint resolution process.
The complaint must be made within six months of the events complained about. In situations where the complainant is a student of the respondent or works for the respondent, the Officer may agree to extend this time limit up to a total of 12 months.
The complaint process is confidential. Both the complainant and the respondent are bound by this, and should not discuss the issue publicly or in any other way broadcast information about it.
Confidentiality is not absolute. It does not prevent either the complainant or the respondent from seeking personal support or counselling, legal advice, or advice about alternative options.
Accompaniment: both the complainant and the respondent are entitled to bring someone with them to any meetings about the complaint: this may be a friend, a lawyer, a union steward, or any other support person.
The complainant decides whether to initiate the formal complaint process, and, at every stage of the process up to a hearing, whether to continue with the complaint. S/he also decides whether any resolution the respondent offers is unacceptable: in other words, the complainant decides whether her or his complaint has been resolved or whether to proceed to the next stage of the process.
The Sexual Harassment Officer keeps written records of all conversations about a complaint. These records are confidential and are kept on file, under the complainant’s name, for 7 years. They are not produced at a Formal Hearing. They will only be released under an order from a court of law.
Release of information: the Sexual Harassment Officer may release information that would otherwise be confidential if it appears that any person may be at risk of serious physical harm, or if required to do so by law.
Stage 1: Both parties take part in individual discussions with the Sexual Harassment Officer. They may also meet each other, in the Office, to talk about the matter with each other and the Officer. The Officer acts as mediator in these discussions. The complainant and respondent may agree on a resolution at this stage.
If the complaint is not resolved at Stage 1, the complainant requests the Officer to proceed to Stage 2.
Stage 2: A mediator is appointed by the Sexual Harassment Officer in consultation with the parties. The mediator assists the parties in further discussion and in formulating terms and agreements.
If there is no resolution at this stage, the complainant may request a Formal Hearing. The complaint is referred to the Vice-President, who may decide to take administrative action to resolve the complaint, or who may refer it to the University Hearing Board.
If the complaint proceeds to a hearing, it becomes the University’s complaint: the University appears at the hearing as the complainant, and the original complainant may be called as a witness. The original complainant no longer has the option of withdrawing the complaint
Stage 3: The complaint is heard by the University Hearing Board, which is composed of student, staff and faculty members. There are 5 members, and the hearings are usually public. Witnesses may be cross-examined. The complainant may not be asked questions about her or his previous behaviour for purposes other than establishing credibility as a witness. The Board hears evidence, rules on the complaint, and, where appropriate, imposes sanctions. The standard of proof of a complaint is that of “clear and convincing evidence”.
None of the records in the Sexual Harassment Office will be produced at a hearing; the Sexual Harassment Officer and the mediator are specifically precluded from giving evidence.
Appeals: The decision of this Board may be appealed, by either the complainant or the respondent, to the Appeals Board. Its decision is final.
Complainants may opt for a mediation-only procedure if they prefer a more informal approach. The complaint process is the same, but it ends at the end of Stage 2 irrespective of whether there is a resolution: the complainant has waived the right to request a formal hearing.
The Policy prohibits any form of retaliation against people who use its complaint procedures or who are witnesses to a complaint. Retaliation can form the basis of a further complaint and will attract additional sanctions.
The Policy outlines fairly strict tight time limits at every stage of the procedure. These are intended to enable speedy resolution of complaints. The time limits can be varied in some cases if both parties agree.
In some circumstances a complainant may decide to pursue a complaint through the Human Rights Commission or other legal action. There may also be the option of using another University procedure, such as a grievance procedure or a complaint under the Code of Student Conduct. The Office can provide some information about these options. A complainant cannot use the University Policy and another procedure at the same time to deal with the same issues; nor can s/he use different University policies consecutively to deal with the same matter.