I came across an interesting article by a federal district judge (Honorable John L. Kane in Denver) about "Judging Credibility" of witnesses. Since judging credibility of the complainant, the accused, and the witnesses is something workplace harassment investigators need to do, I thought I’d share a couple thoughts from his article.
Judge Kane talks about "demeanor evidence" and the fact that it can mislead even though it is considered a reliable basis for finding credibility. Does a witness you are interviewing during an investigation hesitate, stammer, or show fear in answering your questions? Such physical responses alone may not necessarily reflect untruthfulness.
A shy or timid witness who has never participated in a workplace investigation may simply be fearful of the process. Judge Kane gave a courtroom example worth noting:
Witnesses are observable only on the stand and for a very short time. For most of them, testifying is an unusual experience, and they can be expected to be on edge. Judges and juries [and investigators] know little about what makes one person stammer or hesitate. There certainly is no time to delve into the subconscious of each witness. Perhaps the examining attorney’s bright-red tie reminds the witness of her funny uncle or the bailiff’s bald head triggers repressed emotions toward the teacher who failed her in algebra. Will she stammer or hesitate while she gets her thoughts in order?
This article simply reminds one not to jump to any quick conclusions about credibility based solely on a witness’ slowness in answering a question or stammering responses.