In sexual harassment investigations, it is often the case that harassment occurs behind closed doors, with no witnesses, and it becomes a "he said-she said" scenario. Instead of reaching a finding that the allegations were "sustained", "not sustained", or "unfounded", I have heard of investigators reaching an "inconclusive" conclusion, and in such an instance, the employer (who asked for the investigation to be conducted) and the complainant are no better off after the investigation than they were before the investigation began. Such a finding puts the employer back to square one, left wondering, "What do we do now?"
What investigators should keep in mind is that they are being asked to reach a well-reasoned conclusion, considering all facts on both sides of the story, weigh the evidence based on a preponderance of the evidence, and make a credibility determination between the complainant’s story and that of the alleged wrongdoer.
According to the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Vicarious Employer Liability for Unlawful Harassment by Supervisors dated June 18, 1999:
If there are conflicting versions of relevant events, the employer will have to weigh each party’s credibility. Credibility assessments can be critical in determining whether the alleged harassment in fact occurred. Factors to consider include:
Inherent plausibility: Is the testimony believable on its face? Does it make sense?
Demeanor: Did the person seem to be telling the truth or lying?
Motive to falsify: Did the person have a reason to lie?
Corroboration: Is there witness testimony (such as testimony by eye-witnesses, people who saw the person soon after the alleged incidents, or people who discussed the incidents with him or her at around the time that they occurred) or physical evidence (such as written documentation) that corroborates the party’s testimony?
Past record: Did the alleged harasser have a history of similar behavior in the past?
None of the above factors are determinative as to credibility. For example, the fact that there are no eye-witnesses to the alleged harassment by no means necessarily defeats the complainant’s credibility, since harassment often occurs behind closed doors. Furthermore, the fact that the alleged harasser engaged in similar behavior in the past does not necessarily mean that he or she did so again.
It is highly advisable for investigators to discuss these factors in their written reports whenever there are conflicting versions of relevant events.