Discrimination & Harassment Complaints

To file a complaint of discrimination or harassment, please contact:

Office of Equal Opportunity and Access
Sarah M. Brown, Director
1800 Sherman Ave., Suite 4500
Evanston, IL 60208
Phone:  847-491-7458
Fax:  847-467-0698
eeo@northwestern.edu

To file a complaint of sexual harassment, please contact:

University Sexual Harassment Prevention Office
Joan Slavin, Director
1800 Sherman Ave., Suite 4500
Evanston, IL
Phone:  847-491-3745
Fax:  847-491-2506
SexualMisconduct@northwestern.edu

You may also file a complaint with any of the individuals listed under “Where to Get Advice and Help.”

Complaint Resolution Guidelines

Investigation

The Office of Equal Opportunity and Access (“OEOA”) investigates complaints in which a complainant (the person filing the complaint) alleges that a staff or faculty member, or third party, violated the University’s Policy on Discrimination and Harassment. Complaints against students should be directed to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution.

All reports of conduct that is inconsistent with Northwestern’s Policy on Discrimination and Harassment will be investigated in a prompt, thorough, and impartial manner. Investigation will commence as soon as practicable following receipt of the complaint by OEOA, generally within one week. Investigations will be conducted as expeditiously as possible and are usually completed within 30-60 days, though this may vary based on the availability of witnesses, the scope of the investigation, or unforeseen circumstances. Depending upon the circumstances, the investigator will be from OEOA, or the University Sexual Harassment Prevention Office, or a collaboration between the two offices.

During an investigation, complainants will have the opportunity to describe their allegations and present supporting witnesses or other evidence. The respondent (the person complained about) will have the opportunity to receive notice of each allegation, respond to each allegation, and present their evidence supporting their position and propose relevant witnesses. The investigator will review evidence presented and will meet with additional witnesses identified by the complainant, the respondent, or third parties, as determined appropriate by the investigator. In some instances, the investigator may identify and communicate with witnesses that were not identified by the complainant, respondent, or third parties. All parties involved in the investigation are expected to cooperate and provide truthful information throughout the investigation process.

Any participant in an investigation who has a complaint regarding the conduct of the investigator or who believes the investigator has a conflict of interest should contact one of the individuals listed under the Appeals section, below.

Support Person/Legal Counsel

Complainants and respondents may be accompanied to any investigation interview by one advisor. An advisor is a support person who is present to provide support to a complainant or respondent throughout an investigation. An advisor may not speak, write, or otherwise communicate with an investigator on behalf of the complainant or respondent. Advisors who do not abide by these guidelines may be excluded from the process. Advisors cannot be a witness or party in the matter or a related matter, a family member of the complainant or respondent, or an attorney. A union representative may serve as an advisor, where applicable.

Confidentiality

The purpose of the Northwestern Policy on Discrimination and Harassment is to provide the University community with a positive working and educational environment that is free of discrimination and harassment. Complaints of discrimination or harassment will be investigated in a manner that is consistent with this goal.

Northwestern cannot promise complete confidentiality in its handling of discrimination and harassment complaints. Northwestern makes every reasonable effort to handle inquiries, complaints, and related proceedings in a manner that protects the privacy of all parties. Each situation is reviewed as discreetly as possible, with information shared only with those who need to know about it in order to investigate and resolve the problem.

In certain circumstances, and upon explicit request, the University may be able to address discrimination or harassment concerns and stop problematic behavior without revealing to the alleged respondent the identity of the person who complained and/or the individuals involved in the investigation. However, this is not possible in the majority of matters, as situations typically require the disclosure of the complainant’s identity in order to fully investigate the matter and/or to enable the respondent the ability to fully respond to the allegations against them.

Throughout its proceedings, Northwestern will be sensitive to the wishes of the alleged victim and/or reporter of discrimination or harassment. Nevertheless, the University has a compelling interest to address all allegations of discrimination or harassment brought to its attention. Northwestern reserves the right to take appropriate action in such circumstances, even in cases when the complainant is reluctant to proceed with an investigation or requests anonymity.

Retaliation is Strictly Prohibited

Northwestern prohibits retaliation against anyone for making a complaint of discrimination and/or harassment or participating in an investigation of discrimination and/or harassment. Retaliation is a materially adverse action taken against an individual because they engaged in protected activities such as filing a complaint under the policy, when the adverse action is sufficiently severe or pervasive that it could deter a reasonable person from engaging in the protected activities. Members of the community are prohibited from engaging in actions directly or through others that reasonably could deter a party or a witness from reporting discrimination or harassment or participating in an investigation. Examples of retaliation could include, but are not limited to: terminating someone’s employment or changing the terms and conditions of their employment (such as reducing their compensation), direct or indirect intimidation, threats, or coercion, or harassment or other forms of discrimination. Retaliation is a serious violation that can subject the offender to sanctions, regardless of whether there is a finding that a complaint of discrimination or harassment has merit. Anyone experiencing any conduct that they believe to be retaliatory should report it immediately to OEOA or one of the individuals listed in “Where to Get Advice and Help.”

Resolution

At the conclusion of an investigation, the investigator will determine whether the preponderance of the evidence indicates that the respondent violated the Policy on Discrimination and Harassment. The investigator will provide their conclusions and any recommended actions to the appropriate University office. The complainant and the respondent will be notified, in writing, of the outcome of the investigation upon its conclusion.

When a violation of the Policy on Discrimination and Harassment is found, the University’s response is based on several factors, including the severity of the conduct, and aims to prevent problems from recurring. In addition, the University may recommend steps to address the effects of the conduct on the complainant and others. Violators of the policy will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment, in accordance with relevant University policies and/or procedures and other requirements set forth in the Staff Handbook or Faculty Handbook.

  • For staff respondents, in the event a policy violation is found, OEOA will provide findings to the Office of Human Resources and the respondent's manager(s), who are responsible for deciding what sanctions or corrective actions should be imposed on the respondent, in accordance with the procedures set forth in the Staff Handbook.
  • For faculty respondents, in the event a policy violation is found, OEOA will provide findings to the faculty member's Dean and the Associate Provost for Faculty. Any sanctions or corrective actions imposed will be determined in accordance with the procedures set forth in the Faculty Handbook.
  • For third party respondents, findings of a violation will be provided to the third party’s employer (when applicable) and the appropriate University office for further action consistent with the findings.

Appeals

The complainant or respondent may request a reconsideration of the case in instances where they are dissatisfied with the outcome. The appeal must be made within five (5) calendar days of the date of the written notification of the findings or, if sanctions are imposed, the determination of sanctions. An appeal must be in writing and specify the basis for the appeal. The original finding is presumed to be reasonable and appropriate based on a preponderance of the evidence. The only grounds for appeal are as follows:

  • New information discovered after the investigation that could not have reasonably been available at the time of the investigation and is of a nature that could materially change the outcome;
  • Procedural errors within the investigation or resolution process that may have substantially affected the fairness of the process;
  • An outcome (findings or sanctions) that was manifestly contrary to the weight of the information presented (i.e., obviously unreasonable and unsupported by the great weight of information).

The decision on an appeal will be issued as expeditiously as possible, usually within 45 days, though this may vary based on the scope of the appeal or unforeseen circumstances. The reviewer may review the full case, beyond the aspects of the case outlined in the request for appeal. If the reviewer does not find that any of the three grounds for appeal are present in the case, the outcome will be upheld. If the reviewer finds that any of the grounds for appeal are present in the case, they may amend the outcome, may issue a new outcome, or may refer the matter back to the investigator for further consideration. A final outcome on an appeal is not subject to further appeal.
In the event sanctions are imposed, it shall be in the discretion of the sanctioning office whether the sanctions shall be implemented or stayed pending resolution of an appeal. Appeals will be handled by the following reviewers, who may delegate the review of an appeal to a designee, and will delegate review in any case in which they cannot serve as an impartial reviewer.

An appeal by an employee or third party should be addressed to:

Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer
720 University Place
Evanston, IL  60208
Phone: (847) 491-7505
Fax: (847) 467-2688
p-beemer@northwestern.edu

An appeal by a student should be addressed to:

Vice President for Student Affairs
633 Clark Street
Rebecca Crown Center
Evanston, IL  60208
Phone: (847) 491-8430
Fax: (847) 467-2523
tellesirvin@northwestern.edu

An appeal by a faculty member should be addressed to:

Associate Provost for Faculty
633 Clark Street
Rebecca Crown Center
Evanston, IL  60208
Phone: (847) 491-5117
Fax: (847) 467-1630
lcl@northwestern.edu

These guidelines supersede previously published procedures and guidelines for complaint resolution.