Explanation as Apology

One of the more interesting items to emerge from the “me too” movement is a piece written (actually, originally recorded as a podcast) by Dan Harmon, in response to a tweet from a former employee, Megan Ganz, that he sexually harassed her when she worked for him. A few years ago, Ms. Ganz was a writer for a show Mr. Harmon created.

Mr. Harmon delves into his thoughts at the time, recognizing how his “crush” on Ms. Ganz put her in a terrible position. “I crushed on her and resented her for not reciprocating it, and the entire time I was the one writing her paychecks and in control of whether she stayed or went and whether she felt good about herself or not, and said horrible things. Just treated her cruelly, pointedly.” His piece is a fascinating look into the mind of a boss who has “feelings” for an employee, how the boss justifies his behavior–how it makes sense to him to behave in a way that is, objectively, sexual harassment.

Mr. Harmon’s piece is not an apology, per se. As slate.com author Marissa Martinelli notes, it’s more of an explanation than an apology. Its audience is not Ms. Ganz, but rather other men who might develop “feelings” for a woman they supervise. But it’s humble, insightful, and honest, without a hint of blaming the victim or an attempt to save face himself. Those are all ingredients of a good apology.

The result is that Ms. Ganz called the piece “a masterclass in How to Apologize,” and forgave him.

Lawyers Contributed to Priest Abuse Problems

One of the awful threads running through the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on Catholic priests who abused minors is the role of lawyers. While there may indeed have been lawyers who helped the situation, the only ones mentioned in the report assisted in the cover-up, in one way or another.

For example, one District Attorney investigated an abuse case in the 1960’s. After interviewing a child victim and his mother, the DA wrote the bishop that, “in order to prevent unfavorable publicity,” the DA had “halted all further investigations into incidents involving young boys.” When the Grand Jury asked the former DA why he had deferred to the bishop, he said, “I really have no proper answer.” He admitted he needed the bishop’s support for his political career (p. 216). Prosecutorial discretion is a hallmark of the American criminal justice system, but this poor decision meant other children became victims of this abusive priest in Beaver County.

Other lawyers complicit in the cover-up represented the various dioceses. They helped bishops find ways to move abusive priests to other dioceses or out-of-state, and they insisted on non-disclosure agreements in the civil cases they settled, all to ensure that names and behavior of criminal priests would not be publicly disclosed. In some cases, they actively sought to discredit the victims “with unrelated and irrelevant attacks,” according to the Grand Jury report. For example, in one case in Allentown, the diocesan attorney found an informant who stated that the girl who alleged that she was a victim of the priest abuse was “one of the girls who had an affair with a coach at Central Catholic.” The Grand Jury noted that the “information that a Central Catholic coach may have been sexually abusing students was used as evidence against the victim, instead of yet another crime not reported to the police.” (p. 25) In a Harrisburg case where a priest molested five sisters from one family, the Grand Jury reported, “Diocesan lawyers argued that the Diocese was not responsible for the conduct of its agents.” (p. 168)

Although these attorneys purported to represent the diocese, it appears that they were representing only the bishop, and even the abusive priests – and not looking out at all for the well-being of the families that comprised the diocese. The Grand Jury found instances where the diocesan attorney recommended that the bishop remove a particular priest from his post, but it didn’t cite any instance where the attorney advised the bishop to report the abusive priest to the civil authorities.

Lawyers who represented victims suing the diocese were surely trying to seek justice for their clients. But many of these cases resulted in some monetary compensation plus a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). One wonders whether the victims might have preferred the opposite—they might have been willing to forego some of the money if the priest’s name and behavior were publicized. The Grand Jury report suggests that, at least for some victims, “justice” meant exposure, ending the secrecy (see p. 4). Being compelled to sign an NDA only perpetuated the secrecy surrounding these crimes.

A lawyer has an ethical obligation to render candid advice to a client, taking into account not only legal but also moral considerations (Model Rules of Professional Conduct 2.1). Were there lawyers who encouraged bishops to honor victims above priests, to remove offending priests immediately and permanently from positions where they had access to children, to establish safeguards and reporting mechanisms to prevent further abuse? The report makes no mention of this. Sometimes lawyers are the heroes who make sure justice triumphs – but not here.

Apology for a Weak Apology

Ohio State University Football Coach Urban Meyer issued two apologies this week: one on Wednesday, for his mishandling of abuse allegations against one of his assistant coaches; and another yesterday, for not including an apology to the coach’s wife in his previous apology.

A university investigation revealed last week that an assistant football coach, Zach Smith, had a list of employment performance issues over the last few years that his boss, Coach Meyer, chose to ignore. In addition, Smith’s wife Courtney alleged several times that her husband had physically abused her, which Meyer also chose to ignore. Meyer finally fired Zach Smith last month, after Courtney Smith obtained a restraining order against him; and the University suspended Meyer for three weeks for failing to follow university procedures regarding Smith’s behavior.

In Wednesday’s apology, Meyer acknowledged that he “led with his heart, not his head,” in failing to address the allegations against Zach Smith, with whom he had a family-like relationship.  “At each juncture, I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt.” As apologies go, there were some good lines in this one, which indicated some humility and regret. It sounds sincere. However, when asked by a reporter on Wednesday about whether he had a message for Mrs. Smith, he said only, “I’m sorry we are in this situation.”

Yesterday, Coach Meyer issued the following statement, that he tweeted and university officials emailed:

“Let me say here and now what I should have said on Wednesday: I sincerely apologize to Courtney Smith and her children for what they have gone through. My words and demeanor on Wednesday did not show how seriously I take relationship violence. This has been a real learning experience for me. I fully intend to use my voice more effectively to be a part of the solution.”

The media are referring to this statement as an apology, but it’s more of a statement of regret than an apology. Anyone could have issued this statement — even those of us who do not know Mrs. Smith are sorry “for what they’ve gone through,” take relationship violence seriously, and would like to be part of the solution. One of the principles of a good apology is that it takes responsibility for the offending behavior, best demonstrated by specifically naming it. In contrast, Coach Meyer seems to be sorry only for the impact, rather than identifying anything he did to contribute to “what Courtney Smith and her children have gone through.”

A more effective apology would say something like, “I now realize how my failure to act on these allegations contributed to the Smith family’s suffering. I could have done something to stop this years ago, but I did nothing. I hurt Zach’s family, I hurt Zach, I hurt our team and our program. I’m going to use this three-week suspension to examine my behavior and hopefully emerge from this as a better coach and a stronger voice against domestic violence.”

Given his years of denial regarding Mr. Smith’s aberrant behavior, I would not expect Coach Meyer to be able to make an apology like that right away. It will take time for him to reflect on how he got this wrong. The media demand immediate an response, and he did his best under the circumstances. Perhaps his suspension will give him the time he needs to get it right.

Nursing a Grievance

Today’s post brings together two interests of mine: church conflict, and apology — and it involves a church here in Michigan.

A church member had a conflict with church leadership, and the leaders issued her an apology. Sadly, it does not seem to have resolved the conflict and the member says she will no longer attend this particular church. Also, sadly, the conflict made the news.

While most church conflicts center on leadership, worship styles, or finances, the issue here is breastfeeding.

At the Naz Church in Brighton this past Father’s Day, Amy Marchand sat down on a bench in the church hallway and began breastfeeding her 1-year-old while waiting for her 4-year-old twins to finish Sunday school. Marchand does not use a cover when nursing, and church members reported that both breasts were exposed. That evening, a female church leader posted a private message to Marchand on FaceBook, advising her to use designated nursing areas from now on. Marchand said she felt shamed.

In keeping with biblical principles (Matthew 18:15), Marchand met with the senior pastor, Ben Walls, to discuss the issue, but it was not resolved, so Marchand brought her attorney to the second meeting. What Marchand heard the pastor say, according to the Detroit Free Press, is that her behavior was “immodest,” and could cause men to lust and stumble. She said what she wanted was a public apology, and a change to church policies on how to handle nursing mothers.

The pastor said that, in 30 years of ministry, many women have nursed their babies at church and this has never been a problem until now. The church has designated three different spaces for nursing mothers, but Marchand said none of them were convenient because she wanted to meet her twins when they left their class, but her baby was hungry.

The most telling sentence in the article is that Marchand felt that church staff were more focused on her “immodesty” and whether she might sue, than on her real issue. It sounds like the parties were talking past one another. Philippians 2:3-4 advises, “Look not only to your own interests, but also those of others.” Did church staff seek to understand how Marchand viewed her behavior? Did Marchand try to understand the church’s perspective? Nursing mothers want to feed their babies as necessary, without regard to appearances. Churches want to protect attenders from viewing others who are partially-clothed. Once the parties’ interests are identified, it becomes apparent why the Michigan Breastfeeding Anti-discrimination Act, which Marchand argued to the church, was irrelevant. The church’s objection was not to breastfeeding, but to exposure – the lack of bodily cover – , which the statute does not address. It also becomes clear why the church’s argument about protecting men and boys from lustful thoughts was not persuasive—that’s on men and boys, not on nursing moms.

This is a delicate issue, and  no doubt all parties sincerely tried to find a peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, they missed it.



An Amazing Use of Mediation

The “mediation” between Michigan State University and victims of sports doctor Larry Nassar keeps unfolding in ways atypical of mediations. The latest irregularities were revealed last week: not only was the mediated agreement made public (rare, even in cases involving public entities) but it included provisions involving the Michigan legislature (possibly unique).

The settlement, reached in May and approved by the MSU Trustee Board in June, was made public when it was filed in US District Court in Grand Rapids on July 13, and is expected to be approved by Judge Gordon Quist this week.

According to mlive, it included this under a list of “conditions precedent”:

“Michigan Legislation.

(1) Michigan Senate Bill 872 (2018) either shall

(A) fail to be enacted into law because it is withdrawn, defeated by vote, or otherwise fails to pass, or

(B) be amended to reduce the timeframe to bring otherwise time-barred Nassar-related claims to 90 days following enactment of Senate Bill 872 (2018); and

(2) Michigan Senate Bills 875 (2018) and 877 (2018) shall fail to be enacted into law because they are withdrawn, defeated by vote, or otherwise fail to pass.

The parties agree that this condition has been satisfied.”

The agreement was thus tied to the actions of a third-party, which seems risky for an agreement of this magnitude. Because it was labeled a “condition precedent” in the agreement, I don’t think it was an attempt to “bind” a third-party to the mediated agreement, as some have argued. But, even though the agreement purported to have some level of confidentiality, if this condition were leaked to the Legislature, it may have felt pressured to act on pending legislation. Whether or not the Michigan Legislature knew about this provision, it cooperated with it – Senate Bill 872 was adopted after being amended as specified, and Senate Bills 875 and 877 have languished in committee.

Without getting into the politics, it’s a fascinating use of mediation.



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