ICANN’s first formal case of sexual harassment has been closed with no official finding by the Ombudsman.
Ombudsman Chris LaHatte today said he was unable to establish the facts of the alleged incident, which is said to have taken place during a coffee break at the ICANN 55 meeting in Marrkech, March 6.
LaHatte said that the complainant’s decision to publicly name the man she says harassed her had “compromised” his investigation and that the alleged actions of the man “cannot be considered serious”.
It also emerged publicly for the first time that the interaction that led to the complaint was a brief conversation about sandwiches.
LaHatte’s report on the incident says:
The allegation was that she had a relatively brief discussion with a man, which she found derogatory and which she considered was sexual harassment. The description was that he leaned towards her and took her ICANN identification tag. There was a general discussion about the food, and she said that he made the comment, “you can go make me a cheese sandwich”
But the complainant told DI a slightly different version of events that she said is more accurate:
[The man] approached me, pulled at my name tag, examined it and dropped it. A little later, he lifted my name tag and flipped it back and forth, asking me “Where are you from?”, leaned in, lecherously looked at me and then said, “do you know how to make a cheese sandwich?” I was taken aback and responded angrily with “Yes, that is why I came here, to make you cheese sandwiches.” He went on to throw another lecherous look my way and said, “Well, I love veg sandwiches.”
According to LaHatte, the man in question flatly denies that the incident even took place.
The complainant says the incident can be defined as sexual harassment under the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Indian law (she is Indian), and the ICANN corporate policy against sexual harassment among its staff.
Neither party is a member of ICANN staff.
LaHatte says in his report that he has not considered jurisdiction or matters of definition, given that he was unable to even establish the facts of the incident.
In this complaint, the matters alleged cannot be considered serious by any standard. If in fact the action and statement were made, it may have been a lapse of good manners and insensitive to gender. Such issues need to be taken in proportion, and best practice is not to debate this in a public forum where the issues are not yet clear…
However any chance of discussing the comments has been compromised by the decision to identify the other party before my investigation could be completed, and for the parties to have had a full opportunity to consider the alternative versions. The other party has been publically named without an opportunity to make any comment or denial of the incident. It is also part of my role as the ombudsman to ensure that standards of procedural fairness are met, and the premature publication regrettably does not meet the standards of natural justice, because the parties have a right to be heard before this occurred.
LaHatte names the complainant (who waived her right to confidentiality) but not the man (who didn’t) in his report.