WSBA Hostile Work Environment Investigation
Message from WSBA President Rajeev Majumdar:
As leaders of the Washington State Bar Association, we need to hold ourselves accountable to the highest levels of ethical behavior, and that includes making the safety of WSBA staff and volunteers a top priority. With that value forefront on our minds, we supported the Washington Supreme Court’s decision to commission an investigation into complaints made by several WSBA employees early in 2019. WSBA’s main goals from the outset were twofold, just like with any proper workplace investigation: 1) To identify and fix any problems, particularly through policy amendments; and 2) To protect the privacy of those who participated to encourage full participation/candor and to not suppress participation for any similar processes in the future.
Then Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst commissioned the investigation and reviewed the resulting report to make recommendations to WSBA about how to address the findings and move forward. In a letter from December 2019, the Chief Justice notified us of the close of the investigation and asked the WSBA Board of Governors to amend its anti-harassment policy to directly address conflicts of interest. We reacted promptly, adopting such a policy within two weeks. Here are the regular and supplemental materials from that special board meeting. The result is a process for the Chief Justice to appoint an independent ombudsman when a complaint or issue involves a governor. Per the policy, the Chief Justice has since appointed such an ombudsman.
What has brought this policy work back into the spotlight now is the recent release of the investigation report by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) in response to a records request. Subsequently, WSBA also asked for and received the report from AOC so we could notify employees who participated in the investigation of the possible public attention and to read the report ourselves, particularly since we received an inquiry from a reporter at the ABA Journal. I have let the reporter know that the Chief Justice’s letter in December allowed us to move forward with both our main goals (adopting the policy recommended in the Chief Justice’s letter and protecting the privacy of those who participated).
Because we endeavored to keep you updated throughout last year about the investigation process and Board of Governors' adoption/amendment of its anti-harassment policy, I hope this is not new news—just a recap and endnote. Overall, I want to thank everyone who participated in the investigation; that took candor and courage, especially considering the fact and substance of their participation has now become public record. I also want to thank all the board and staff members who collectively brought their talents and perspectives together to create a policy based on the recommendations from the Chief Justice. With that input, we have created important safeguards. Organizations like the WSBA only learn and improve through thoughtful discourse and policy decisions, and this new policy is a positive result of challenging conversations.
Rajeev Majumdar, WSBA President