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Even post-Weinstein, no sexual harassment complaints at ICANN

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2017, Domain Policy

There have been no formal complaints of sexual harassment in the ICANN community since the organization introduced a zero tolerance policy back in March, according to the Ombudsman.

That’s even after the current media storm about such behavior, precipitated by the revelations about movie producer Harvey Weinstein, which has given men and women in many industries the confidence to level accusations against others.

“There have been no complaints of sexual harassment since the implementation of the Community Anti-Harassment Policy nor the uptake of [post-Weinstein] media coverage,” ICANN Ombudsman Herb Weye told DI in response to an inquiry today.

The anti-harassment policy was adopted in March, and there have been three full, in-person ICANN meetings since then.

Face-to-face meetings are of course where one would expect to see such incidents, if any were to occur.

The policy bans everything from groping to wolf-whistling to dirty jokes to repeated, unwanted requests for dates.

At the time the policy was approved, ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey noted that there had been more than one such complaint since the infamous Cheesesandwichgate incident in March 2016.

No complaints since March does not necessarily mean no incidents, of course.

One recent recommendation to reform the office of the Ombudsman (or Ombudsperson, or simply Ombuds, in recent ICANN documentation) is to ensure a gender-mixed staff to perhaps make it more likely for issues related to gender to be reported.

A recent, non-scientific survey of ICANN participants found that about a third of women had knowledge or experience of sexism in the community.

Weye said that most complaints about non-sexual “harassment” occur at social events where alcohol is involved. He said that ICANN participants should be discreet when discussing “sensitive” cultural issues in such contexts, lest they inadvertently offend those within earshot.

There is “no place for disrespect in ICANN’s multi-cultural diverse environment” he said.

ICANN pimps new sexual harassment rules

Kevin Murphy, May 17, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN has proposed new anti-harassment guidelines for its community that would ban “unwelcome hostile or intimidating behavior”.

It wants your comments on the changes to its longstanding “Expected Standards of Behavior” document, which applies to both its in-person meetings and online discussions and mailing lists.

The proposed addition to the document reads like this:

Respect all members of the ICANN community equally and behave according to professional standards and demonstrate appropriate behavior. ICANN strives to create and maintain an environment in which people of many different backgrounds and cultures are treated with dignity, decency, and respect. Specifically, participants in the ICANN process must not engage in any type of harassment. Generally, harassment is considered unwelcome hostile or intimidating behavior — in particular, speech or behavior that is sexually aggressive or intimidates based on attributes such as race, gender, ethnicity, religion, age, color, national origin, ancestry, disability or medical condition, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The definition of harassment has been borrowed almost directly from the Internet Engineering Task Force’s policy on harassment, which was signed off in 2013.

ICANN has added the words “ethnicity” and “medical condition” to the IETF’s list of protected characteristics, but has not included the IETF’s list of examples:

the use of offensive language or sexual imagery in public presentations and displays, degrading verbal comments, deliberate intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

The changes were prompted by a recent allegation of sexual harassment at an ICANN meeting which divided the community on whether the alleged incident amounted to sexual harassment or not.

ICANN’s Ombudsman, Chris LaHatte, concluded that whatever took place “cannot be considered serious”, but he did not make a formal finding.

LaHatte has already endorsed the proposed change to the expected standards document.

It does not seem unreasonable to me, at first glance, either.

What do you think? ICANN has opened a public comment period that closes June 25, to find out.

“Cheese sandwich” comment blamed for sexual harassment complaint

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2016, Domain Policy

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.

The man has apparently considered legal action over his public naming.

Man in sexual harassment claim considers legal action

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2016, Domain Policy

The man accused of sexual harassment at an ICANN meeting is considering legal action for defamation.

He’s also filed a counter-complaint with ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte, after his accuser named him on a public mailing list.

That’s according to emails from LaHatte, screen-captured and posted to social media by the woman making the accusations.

LaHatte had previously told the woman that the man could not recall the alleged incident, said to have taken place during ICANN 55 in Marrakech a couple of weeks ago.

The woman says her name tag — at ICANN meetings a rectangle of plastic hanging loosely around the neck on a strap — was “pulled at” while the man made “inappropriate remarks”.

The content of the alleged remarks has not yet been disclosed.

She published her Ombudsman complaint — which names the man — to a public mailing list late last week.

In the new email, LaHatte tells her that naming the man publicly has complicated matters.

The investigation now becomes very difficult. Indeed, he has complained about the naming as being unfair and asked me to undertake a complaint investigation about your action.

The man was entitled to a “fair and impartial investigation”, he said, but “his privacy has been compromised”.

I have been waiting for a response from you about his reaction to the allegations. So he has now complained that he has been named before he had a chance for your response to be considered by me, and for any analysis and report. This is a matter of procedural fairness, and in my view he should have had the opportunity to have your reply. He is therefore considering his response which may include litigation unfortunately.

The complainant says she wants ICANN to create a sexual harassment policy for its participants — she was already talking to LaHatte about this before the alleged incident.

ICANN’s board of directors said in Marrakech it had instructed staff to look into the possibility of such a policy.

Debate as accuser names “sexual harasser”

Kevin Murphy, March 22, 2016, Domain Policy

The woman who says she was sexually harassed at the ICANN meeting in Marrakech earlier this month has controversially named the alleged perpetrator on a public mailing list.

She’s also publicly released documents exchanged between herself and the ICANN Ombudsman, with whom she has made a formal complaint.

According to her complaint the man, a longstanding and often vocal member of the ICANN community “approached me, pulled at my name tag, and passed inappropriate remarks.”

“I felt like my space and safety as a young woman in the ICANN community was at stake,” the complaint says.

No allegations of physical contact have been made, and the content of the “inappropriate remarks” has not been disclosed.

I’m not going to name either party here. They’re “the man” and “the woman” for now.

The woman has said on the mailing list in question that she’s waived her right to confidentiality.

I contacted the man for comment at the weekend and have not yet received a reply.

An email from Ombudsman Chris LaHatte, released by the woman, shows that he has spoken to the man.

The man said he could not recall the incident and LaHatte declined to tell him who his accuser was, for confidentiality reasons, the email says.

The release of the documents has sparked discussion on the mailing list and social media about whether publicly naming the man was the most appropriate course of action.

Inevitably, there’s also been some discussion about what constitutes sexual harassment.

The woman said she had already been engaged with LaHatte about the possibility of ICANN creating a sexual harassment policy, and that “this incident pushed me to take forward what had hitherto been a mere academic interest with increased vigour”.

She said in a released email predating Marrakech that during ICANN 54 last year, her first ICANN meeting, “I personally felt as though a few inappropriate remarks were made by certain male co attendees”.

When the woman initially made her allegations at the ICANN public forum, ICANN director Markus Kummer said the board had asked ICANN staff to look at possibly adjusting the longstanding Expected Standards Of Behavior to more specifically address sexual harassment.

“We clearly do not condone improper conduct of any kind such as harassment or otherwise and there should be zero tolerance for it within the community,” he said during the public forum.

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