The panel discussion was introduced by NELF’s President, Martin J. Newhouse, and moderated by the Honorable Robert J. Cordy, partner at McDermott and Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (2001-2016). The morning panelists were Melissa Brennan, Legal Counsel, Partners Healthcare, Krista Pratt, Employment Counsel, Biogen, as well as two other leading McDermott partners Maria Rodriguez and Sarah Walters.
The increased focus on issues of harassment and abuse is putting corporate America under a microscope. Business executives and board members—regardless of whether the entity they serve is private, public or charitable—must adjust the way they approach the issue of harassment in the workplace and actively respond to allegations of misconduct. Recent examples demonstrate that no industry sector is immune to the problem. This is no longer just a matter for the HR department—it requires focus and corporate action at the General Counsel and Board levels. The tone must be set at the top. The adequacy of compliance programs and the corporate response to allegations of harassment both past and present has become critical in the marketplace as well as in the courts. Indeed, in addition to high profile examples of media reports alone destroying corporate reputations, a recent decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court (Gyulakian v. Lexus of Watertown, Inc. ), has made it clear that a corporate failure to take sufficient remedial action (including a thorough investigation) after having been notified of potentially harassing conduct in the workplace can subject the company to punitive, as well as compensatory, damages.
The panel on May 2 addressed these issues in the context of the latest developments in response to the #MeToo movement, with a particular focus on how a combination of experienced employment, white collar and SEC practitioners can save a company time, money, resources, and most importantly its reputation in the marketplace. The panelists provided practical advice and guidance with regard to, first, preventing workplace harassment and abuse and, second, how best to deal with such incidents so as to protect both the employees involved and their employer.