The City of Beachwood has been investigating multiple claims of harassment brought forward by employees. We want residents to know exactly where those investigations stand and what action City Council will consider on Monday.
First and foremost, we will protect our employees from harassment. We take all allegations of harassment seriously and we investigate every accusation thoroughly. Last summer, as it was disclosed publicly, the city retained the services of law firm Walter Haverfield after City Law Director Stewart Hastings determined that certain harassment allegations were best investigated by an outside law firm to avoid any conflict of interest. After consultation with Walter Haverfield, the city determined that no action would be taken.
We also protect our employees from potential unjustified allegations of harassment. That is why, unless necessary to the investigation, we do not identify the people who are accused of wrongdoing until the investigation is over and then only if disciplinary action is taken. At that point in time, some of the documents may become public records.
We now are faced with new challenges in the form of anonymous harassing emails and social media posts published to possibly defame specific employees. To be clear, these are not emails and postings that merely criticize city employees and the work they do. Rather, they are emails and posts that could potentially contain defamatory statements that damage certain employees’ reputations and the reputation of the city. Furthermore, the anonymous person(s) appears to have inside knowledge that only an employee or public official might have. Such defamatory statements are not protected by the First Amendment.
On Monday, City Council will consider an ordinance to hire Minc Law, Cleveland-based experts in online defamation, harassment and investigations. We want to know who is attacking our civil servant employees and creating a hostile environment through these objectionable emails and social media posts so that we can protect our employees from further harm.
It saddens us that we have had to take these steps. In Beachwood, we should do better. Unfortunately, there is a cost associated with these steps. But there is a larger potential cost in ignoring hostile work environment claims. Our goal is to protect our employees.