All reports describing conduct that is inconsistent with Northwestern’s Policy on Sexual Harassment will be promptly and thoroughly investigated. Investigation will commence as soon as practicable following receipt of the complaint by the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office, 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 the University Sexual Harassment Prevention Office, the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access, or the Office of Human Resources.
During an investigation, the complainant (the person filing the complaint) will have the opportunity to describe his or her allegations and present supporting witnesses or other evidence. The respondent (the person complained about) will have the opportunity to respond to the allegations and present supporting witnesses or other evidence. 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. All parties and witnesses involved in the investigation are expected to cooperate and provide complete and truthful information throughout the investigation process. In some cases, the investigator may interview the parties on more than one occasion.
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 "Where to Get Advice and Help," who shall take appropriate actions to address the issue in a prompt and equitable manner.
During the investigation process, both the complainant and the respondent may ask a non-attorney support person from the University community to accompany him or her. The support person must be a member of the Northwestern community and cannot be a potential witness in the matter. Since these are internal University proceedings, the persons involved may not have legal counsel present at any interview during the investigation. In cases involving multiple complainants or respondents, the support person cannot be another respondent or complainant. The support person does not serve as an advocate on behalf of the complainant or respondent, and he or she must agree to maintain the confidentiality of the process.
The goal of the Northwestern University sexual harassment policy is to provide members of the community with a positive working and learning environment that is free from sexual harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment will be investigated in a manner that is consistent with this goal. All participants in the investigation will be advised that they should keep the complaint and the investigation confidential.
The University cannot promise complete confidentiality in its handling of 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 resolved as discreetly as possible, with information shared only with those who need to know in order to investigate and resolve the matter. In certain circumstances, the University may be able to address harassment concerns and stop problematic behavior without revealing to the alleged harasser the identity of the person who complained and/or the individuals involved in the investigation. However, this is not possible in every matter, as some situations require the disclosure of the complainant’s identity in order to fully investigate the matter and/or to enable the respondent to fully respond to the allegations against him or her.
In its investigation, the University will be sensitive to the feelings and situation of the alleged victim and/or reporter of sexual harassment. Nonetheless, the University has a compelling interest to address all allegations of sexual 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.
Northwestern prohibits retaliation against anyone for inquiring about suspected breaches of University policy, registering a complaint pursuant to its policies, assisting another in making a complaint, or participating in an investigation under its policies. Retaliation is a serious violation that can subject the offender to sanctions independent of the merits of the sexual harassment allegation. Anyone experiencing any conduct that he or she believes to be retaliatory should immediately report it to one of the individuals listed in “Where to Get Advice and Help.”
At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator will determine whether the preponderance of the evidence indicates that the respondent has violated the Policy on Sexual Harassment. The investigator will then provide her or his conclusions and any recommended actions to the appropriate University office. For staff, the appropriate office is the Office of Human Resources in collaboration with the respondent’s manager(s). For students, the appropriate office is the Dean of Students. For faculty, the appropriate office is the faculty member’s Chair or Dean. The appropriate office will review the recommendation and then, in consultation with the Director of the University Sexual Harassment Prevention Office and, where appropriate, the Office of Human Resources, will make a decision concerning the resolution of the complaint and any corrective actions that will be imposed. The complainant and the respondent will be notified in writing of the outcome of the investigation upon its completion.
When a violation of the Policy on Sexual Harassment is found, the University’s response is based on several factors, including the severity of the conduct and any prior policy violations, and aims to prevent problems from recurring. When appropriate, violators of the policy will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment or separation from the University. Disciplinary action will be in accordance with relevant policies and/or procedures and other requirements set forth in the Staff Handbook, Faculty Handbook, or Student Handbook. In addition, the University may recommend steps to address the effects of the conduct on victims and others, including counseling and support resources, academic and housing assistance, change in work situation, leave of absence, training, or other services.
Mediation will not be used to resolve complaints involving sexual assault or sexual violence.
The complainant or respondent may request a reconsideration of the case in instances where he or she is dissatisfied with the outcome. The appeal must be made within ten (10) business days of the date of the written notification of the conclusion of the investigation. An appeal must be in writing, submitted to one of the individuals listed below, as appropriate, and specify the substantive and/or procedural basis for the appeal. The appropriate individual below will review the appeal and issue a written decision, which shall be final and not subject to further appeal. The decision will be issued within a reasonable period of time, generally no longer than ninety (90) days after receipt of the appeal.
These guidelines supersede previously published procedures and guidelines for complaint resolution.