How the Star Tribune handled the harassment of a reporter

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch offers no names in his column today detailing just how common it is for female sportswriters to be sexually harassed by the men they cover.

Some of the players in incidents he details required the willful assistance of officials of the teams for which the athlete played.

Deitsch’s column, of course, is sparked by the current scandal at the University of Minnesota where former athletic director Norwood Teague may have been a serial harasser.

It was also inspired by Star Tribune writer Amelia Rayno’s revelation that she was assaulted by Teague in December 2013.

On his Holding Court podcast, local attorney Ron Rosenbaum charged that the editors wanted Rayno to “take one for the team.”

“They will study this in journalism classes for what you don’t do when your reporter is sexually harassed,” he said.

“In their own editorial, they indicate that those days of keeping this quiet are gone. Apparently unless you’re at the Star Tribune,” he said. “I’ve heard reporters are bat *** angry about… the way it was handled by management. That they permitted this woman to continue to cover this beat and not report a serious, dangerous physically violent act of sexual harassment and, basically, in effect, did exactly what they said we don’t do anymore in this country, which is stick our head in the sand and basically said, in effect, ‘take one for the team.'”

Deitsch, meanwhile, says people have no idea how often such harassment happens to women who work in the sports media, and he said Rayno has a case against her employer.

I asked (Marcia L. McCormick, a professor of law and director of the Wefel Center for Employment Law at Saint Louis University) how strong a case Rayno would have, if she indeed had one, against her employer on that grounds that her employer should have pursued action against Teague independent of what its employee did.

“Given the information currently available, it is not likely that Rayno would have a good case against the Star Tribune for discrimination,” McCormick said. “The Star Tribune only had to act reasonably, and not perfectly, to protect Rayno from Teague’s harassment. Although there may have been some action the Star Tribune could have taken against Teague, perhaps by notifying the university of his conduct, it’s hard to see a way it could do so without endangering Rayno from some sort of retaliation or backlash. The details of what happened, which the Star Tribune would probably have to reveal, would likely have revealed her identity. And a choice to do so might, in fact, make the Star Tribune liable if its action caused Teague to escalate his harassment or if its action caused others to harass or retaliate against Rayno for coming forward. The Star Tribune’s independent action could have made Rayno’s working environment worse.

“Where an employer provides no alternative, or no real alternative to the employee pursuing the claims on her own, the employer probably isn’t acting reasonably to prevent or end the harassment,” McCormick continued. “But giving an employee a real choice is likely going to be seen as reasonable. Again, this may seem like it doesn’t protect female reporters enough, but supporting them to make decisions that will protect them and allow them to progress in their careers is a positive way to promote sex equality.”

But, the professor said, “the Star Tribune is more responsible for the conduct of its managers and supervisors. It is less responsible for the conduct of those outside the employer’s control, like a source in the context of a reporter.”