Resources / 03.20.2020

Susan Stone and Kristina Supler’s Kent State Lecture on Title IX and Internships

This week, Student & Athlete Defense attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler gave a virtual lecture for fashion students at Kent State on how Title IX applies to internships and the impact of coronavirus.

 

Transcript

Kristina Supler:

Good morning everyone.

Susan Stone:

Good morning. Thanks for having us. It’s fun. By the way, I’m the older sister, in case anyone’s wondering. And I’m a blonde as long as there’s going to be a hairstylist around. So pretty soon, my hair’s going to be changing back to what my sister is and I’m not too happy about it. Anyways, thanks for having us. As Hillary said, we are two lawyers who rep students of all ages and professionals who are involved in misconduct matters, and our work includes representing students like you all over the country.

Kristina Supler:

Good morning, again. And thank you to Hillary for inviting us to speak to all of you today. It’s always a pleasure to connect with college students on any campus. As Susan said, we are lawyers. We’re also mothers, and our careers are dedicated to representing students and professionals of all ages. And related to that is also representing in people who get into a little bit of trouble and perhaps might have to appear before a professional licensing board, an academic board for any sort of misconduct issue.

Susan Stone:

So before you head off to internships and hopefully, this COVID-19 won’t stop any of you from going to some fabulous places that I know, Hillary, places you in New York and Milan, we want to talk about what kind of behaviors to avoid. And also, for those of you who are still juniors, I don’t know how many of you are still going to stay in school and working remotely, we’re going to briefly touch upon issues that could impact you even while you’re a remote distance learner.

Kristina Supler:

So let’s just take a step back at this point and talk about professionalism in general, what defines professionalism and shapes professionalism. And really, at the core of professionalism is the idea of having respect for yourself and those around you. And really, it’s so important, think before you act. We always talk to our clients and when we lecture, the old adage, would you say it or do it in front of your grandmother? That, of course, still applies in the workplace even more so.

Susan Stone:

And healthy boundaries.

Kristina Supler:

That’s right. When you’re out in the working world through an internship or some awesome job opportunity, let’s think about … Well, let’s take a step back and focus on internships. And so, you’re doing an internship. You’ve been placed through Kent State. Does the Kent State code of conduct still apply?

Susan Stone:

Well, it does apply. As long as you’re still a student and affiliated with your school, your school code of conduct still applies to your behavior. So if something goes wrong during your internship, not only are you at risk of losing your internship, but you could get in trouble with your school. So what you need to do is make sure that you are very familiar with your school’s code of conduct and any governing rules that would apply when you go on your internship. And I would check with Hillary to see if there are any special rules that you would need to abide by because jurisdiction of a school applies at all school-sponsored activities, and that would include your internship.

Kristina Supler:

So interns, it’s sort of this hybrid status under the law and we don’t have to get into all the technicalities, but while you’re an intern, it’s also possible that you’re governed by the rules and regulations in the employer handbook. And it’s so important, these handbooks, it’s not just a thick document that a bunch of lawyers wrote and put together and you think, “Oh, this is boring,” you throw it in the drawer and you don’t think anything about it. It’s actually important that you know what is in that document because it protects you and helps you be a good employee as well. And if you have questions, you should ask. You should talk to your human resource professional.

Susan Stone:

And human resources change employee handbooks all the time. Right now with the corona virus, everybody’s scrambling to see how the rules need to be changed for employees, especially those employees who might start internships working remotely. What are going to be the rules and what are the rules of conduct I think are going to be very fluid right now. However, we’re going to briefly talk about some boring stuff, but it’s not so boring for us and what laws apply. So the first law, Kristina, why don’t you talk about Title VII?

Kristina Supler:

Sure. And again, this isn’t meant to be a law school lecture, but just to give you some context. Title VII prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. And so, and think particularly in this post Me Too world, all the news and reports that we’re hearing about Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, there’s a lot of discussion about sexual harassment and what is it? There’s quid pro quo. There’s a hostile environment. It can take many different forms. So Susan, why don’t you talk a little bit more about that. What about if you’re not getting paid? I mean what does that mean? Are you an employee?

Susan Stone:

So this is really interesting. I don’t know if I’m assuming all of you who are going to be going off to internships are paid employees?

Hillary:

No. No.

Susan Stone:

Oh.

Hillary:

No.

Susan Stone:

Okay, so this is really interesting. Typically, the law does not apply if you’re an unpaid intern, unless you get some other benefit. And there’s some really complicated case law out there that says, let’s say you do an internship and it leads to employment, then that’s a substantial benefit that would entitle you to coverage under Title VII.

Kristina Supler:

And also, state laws can give you more protection and coverage than you might have under federal law. So we don’t have to get into all of that, but the bottom line is that while you’re an intern, you should, of course, be mindful and follow all the rules. And it looks like our connection is cutting out.

Hillary:

Turn that on.

Kristina Supler:

Okay.

Susan Stone:

Oh, it’s back on. Okay. Hopefully, this is going to be better and it is being recorded. So if you want to go back over the content, I know Hillary can make that available to you. However, even if the traditional employment laws don’t cover you and protect you on your internship, you are protected under Title IX. Why? Because as we said before, you are still a student at Kent State University and Title IX, if you read the handbook and the code of student conduct also prescribes sexual misconduct and sexual harassment. So, don’t worry, there’s probably double protection for you as a student to be free from an environment that would make you uncomfortable or in an unsafe spot while you’re on your internship.

Kristina Supler:

And last, but not least, and this is somewhat obvious, but it never hurts to point out something, a good reminder, anything that would be in violation of criminal law would, of course, present challenges for professionalism and employment. So, at state colleges and universities in particular, the schools have to follow something called the Ohio Campus Disruption Act. And what that means is that any individual who’s committed an act of violence and who’s arrested for that violation is technically subject to immediate suspension from school. So just bear in mind that if, God forbid, something goes seriously wrong and then there’s an arrest, the school does have the right to say “You’re done. You got to pack up and go.”

Susan Stone:

Today. Okay. Thank you. So let’s resume and talk specifically about what is harassment and what behaviors fit. And after we get through the boring definitions, we’re hopefully going to give you some stories to make it a little bit more interesting.

Kristina Supler:

Sure. So looking at what governs your internship, the idea of professionalism, Kent State’s policies apply. And let’s talk about sexual harassment. As a general proposition, it’s any sort of unfavorable or unwelcome treatments made without consent based on a person’s sex or gender, and it’s severe and pervasive. So what does that mean? Ongoing conduct or particularly egregious conduct that really impacts someone and interferes with their ability to perform their employment obligations or academic obligations.

Susan Stone:

Let’s slow this down a little bit, okay.

Kristina Supler:

There’s a lot to unpack.

Susan Stone:

Let’s unpack that because that’s a big definition and I think we need to really piece it together. First, it’s unwelcome, okay. That is a really important term that we should just talk about, what is unwelcome? So sometimes people are joking around in the workplace and making crude sexual type jokes and just because someone is sitting there going, I don’t know if you can see me, “Uh-huh (affirmative), uh-huh (affirmative), uh-huh (affirmative),” and they look like they like it, they don’t really like it. They might be uncomfortable.

Kristina Supler:

And I mean, by way of example, any sort of flirting, just because someone smiles or laughs, that shouldn’t be taken as an indication that the behavior’s okay. And that goes both ways, you should not do that. But of course also, it’s not … You shouldn’t have to be on the receiving end of that.

Susan Stone:

There was … What was the name of the person who just had to resign after years because he was saying to people …

Kristina Supler:

Chris Matthews.

Susan Stone:

Chris Matthews, let’s talk about Chris Matthews. You probably don’t, I don’t know if anyone out there knows about Chris Matthews, but he was an older gentleman who had his own show for many, many years, and he would say to women, “Why haven’t I met you before? Oh, I could fall in love with you.” And really in my heart of hearts, I think he was joking, but those comments were not welcome by other people. Now, I’m going to share a little story with you because I think some of it’s a little generational …

Kristina Supler:

Sure.

Susan Stone:

… about Hillary and my father, okay. My father constantly goes around saying to people, “Do you want to get married? Do you want to get married?” Hillary’s laughing. It’s true, okay.

Hillary:

He’s sweet.

Susan Stone:

He’s in his mid 80s. Now …

Hillary:

Late ’80s. He’s 85.

Susan Stone:

Oh, my gosh. Okay, details. But today, if that occurred in the workplace, not acceptable, not welcome.

Kristina Supler:

Right? And this behavior can be jokes. It can be gestures. It can be a drawing. It can be something that’s sent, a bad office email or just a text message. Unwelcome touching, I mean, of course, I think everyone knows that, but these are all examples of behaviors that can potentially be very problematic.

Susan Stone:

I think right now, the lines, especially with social distancing, I think we all know, anyone know what a close talker is? That’s when someone gets really close to someone’s face. Oh, I see a head nodding. That can really make people feel uncomfortable. And I think today, it’s just better to say, “I need a little bit of space,” because that could feel very uncomfortable people. Does it rise to sexual harassment? I don’t think so, but the lines are moving towards stronger boundaries.

Kristina Supler:

Let’s talk about sexual misconduct in general and the definition, any sort of intentional sexual touching, however slight. And so sometimes, there’s a perception that sexual misconduct or sexual harassment has to be really aggressive, violent behavior. And while that is true, any sort of sexual touching like that would be sexual misconduct. It can also be slight touching, basically any sort of sexual touching without someone’s consent. So sexual misconduct and assault and harassment can take many different forms.

Susan Stone:

A pat on the butt.

Kristina Supler:

That’s right. Hard to believe that that still happens, but it does.

Susan Stone:

Let’s talk about some definitions from Kent State University Center for Sexual Relationship Violence Support Services. Sexual contact without a person’s consent covers a really wide range at Kent State from unwanted touching and fondling to attempted and completed rape. So what do these acts have in common?

Kristina Supler:

A lack of consent, someone not agreeing to the touching. And consent … Why don’t you … Susan, maybe it’d be helpful to also talk about how drugs and alcohol factor into consent.

Susan Stone:

This is a really interesting day and age because under every school’s policy across the country, you are not able to consent if you are incapacitated. Now, everybody thinks if they’re drunk, that means they were incapacitated. Drunk is not a term [inaudible 00:15:11]. It is perfectly lawful and conforms to policy to have drunk sex.

Kristina Supler:

However, that is something very different from any sort of sexual experience while one is incapacitated. And so, incapacitation is really more something that examines do you know where you are, what you’re doing? Can you answer the who, what, when, where, why of a situation?

Susan Stone:

Can you walk a straight line?

Kristina Supler:

Right. I mean in some ways perhaps it might be helpful to think of, I don’t know, field sobriety tests or something like that. That’s, of course, an extreme example, but you want to be in a situation ultimately where someone’s examining, did you know where you were, what was happening, those sorts of things.

Susan Stone:

Now, what’s interesting to me today is the term, and I would love feedback from you guys, the terms grayout, brownout, blackout. Anyone familiar with these terms? “I was so drunk. I was blackout?” Yeah, I’m seeing a …. Whoa.

Kristina Supler:

There we go.

Susan Stone:

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Well, it’s funny that you say yes because when we started in this space, we had to really look up those terms. It wasn’t part of our normal vocabulary.

Kristina Supler:

Well, I remember the first time I heard gray out, I’m like, “Okay, I know what a blackout is, but like what’s a grayout?” Because that’s a really commonly used phrase now, particularly among college students. And I’m not going to lie, Susan, I went to the urban dictionary and were like, “Hmm, what does this mean?”

Susan Stone:

What is a grayout? So let me talk about grayout and blackout. Here’s the problem with grayout and blackout, and we’ve learned this through working with toxicologists and pharmacologists all over the country, you can be blackout drunk, but to everyone else in the world look fine so that … And you can be grayout or brownout and look fine. You can be walking and talking and just not remember what happens the next morning. So when you’re looking at whether someone violated the policy, it’s to what a reasonable person, a reasonably sober person would think under the circumstances.

Susan Stone:

What’s the takeaway, guys? Does anyone want to type in what they think the takeaway is? I’d like some insight from you in cyberworld, cyberspace.

Hillary:

Oh, they like to talk.

Susan Stone:

Oh, I want to hear you talk. Come on, guys. Everyone should have an opinion about this. Okay. Could you repeat the question?

Kristina Supler:

Question.

Susan Stone:

What’s the takeaway if judging whether somebody is grayout or blackout is really in the eyes of the person with you, not your subjective belief. I cut out.

Kristina Supler:

Oh, it’s cutting out.

Susan Stone:

It’s cutting out. So we’re just going to continue.

Kristina Supler:

So it’s just-

Susan Stone:

They can’t hear, Hillary.

Kristina Supler:

… important to think about, of course, your own safety and also the safety of those around you. And so, we talk a lot about bystander intervention.

Hillary:

Type the question in. You can type the question in, they can get it.

Kristina Supler:

Do you want to type? Okay, we’re going to type a question.

Hillary:

Put it in. Thank you.

Susan Stone:

Okay. I’m typing the question, how do you judge if someone is blackout drunk? We really would … It’s worth waiting to get some feedback here. You can’t. That’s mahogany. You’re pretty smart out there. You can’t. So Kristina, why don’t you give the big takeaway from that?

Kristina Supler:

The big takeaway is you don’t even want to be in a situation where your … Oh, there you go. Someone says, “I feel like if you’re intoxicated, you should just not do anything just to be safe because you can’t know.” Perfect. Alexandra, wonderful answer. Could not agree more. And that applies also, again, be a good bystander. Think about your friends and if someone maybe is having a rough night and maybe not making the best decisions, it’s okay to go up to your friend and say, “Come on, let’s go home. Maybe you don’t want to go with this person or that person.” Just be a good eyes and ears for those around you.

Susan Stone:

Let’s talk about stalking, okay? Stalking is engaging in a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to be scared and suffer distress. Now, when traditionally you think of stalking, you think about someone following you around and not leaving alone and waiting outside your house. But let’s talk about what stalking looks like.

Kristina Supler:

Course of conduct, so typically under most school policies and the law, that’s going to be two or more actions and it could be directly, it could be indirectly or through third parties. And if you don’t want someone to talk to you, it’s important to be very clear with them, “Please, don’t talk to me. Don’t text me. I don’t want to get together for coffee,” whatever it might be.

Susan Stone:

Let’s just talk about really quickly examples of stalking so-

Kristina Supler:

I think that’s good idea.

Susan Stone:

That’s a good idea. So repeatedly calling, texting or emailing. If you’re on an internship and someone says to you or texts you, “Do you want to have coffee? Do you want to have coffee? Do you want to have coffee?” “Just leave me alone.” Constantly following you on social media and ask, through social media, reaching out to you and snapping you constantly, that could be. Sending unwanted gifts, damaging your property. We, Kristina and I actually had a case where a girl broke up with her boyfriend on campus and he remotely somehow deleted her data on her computer and she couldn’t get ready for finals, and that was considered stalking.

Kristina Supler:

That’s a big no-no. Don’t do that. And also, if someone does that to you, you should report it.

Susan Stone:

Absolutely. So one last area is relationship violence. And I think a lot of you know what that is. That’s if someone that you’re in a dating relationship or even in the workplace, think Harvey Weinstein, and someone physically harms you, please make sure you report that to your HR person where you do your internship or to Hillary, who’s the Kent State liaison.

Kristina Supler:

I just wanted to add to that an example that maybe is a little bit less understood. For people in dating relationships or some sort of particular relationship maybe in the workplace setting, if someone says, “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself. I can’t go on without you,” any sort of threat of harm or manipulation, that can in fact be an example of intimate partner violence, relationship violence or a violation of a workplace rule, a school policy. That sort of manipulative behavior is not okay.

Susan Stone:

No bueno. So we want you all to feel safe and we want to give you some concrete tips about what you need to watch for when you’re on your internship. And we’re taking this from actual cases that we have and so hopefully … I hear toxic. You’re right, that would be toxic, what Kristina was violating. So guys, girls, gals, everyone out there, be careful about boundaries, if you are working with someone.

Kristina Supler:

So I’m going to give you some examples of how boundaries could be blurred and violated. A professor, a supervisor, someone in the workplace setting, offers a “If you do this, I’ll give you money. Oh, hey, I’m sure you’re a poor college student. Do you need some money for groceries?” And then an expectation of something in return. Not okay.

Susan Stone:

Constantly offering to drive you places, inviting you to their home. If you’re away, inviting you to a hotel room-

Kristina Supler:

Text.

Susan Stone:

Personal text. If you are working with someone, remember the topic is professionalism, you don’t talk about your personal life.

Kristina Supler:

Think about doing stuff in a group setting and be mindful of requests for one-on-one interaction perhaps in an isolated setting. That’s not something that one should generally encounter in a professional workplace setting.

Susan Stone:

As you transition from college, remember, work colleagues. You can get very close with work colleagues. I work with this person every day of my life, but a colleague is just that. It’s not the same as a personal friend. Remember that boundary.

Kristina Supler:

So I have a question, Susan. What should someone do if while on an internship or down the road in the workplace setting, what should they do if they feel like something doesn’t feel right? Maybe I’ve been violated, I’m not sure. I’m uncomfortable. What advice can we offer?

Susan Stone:

You make, first thing, you document it. You write it down. And you report, you report to both Kent State and you report to the human resources officer where you’re doing your internship.

Kristina Supler:

You might also feel more comfortable perhaps reporting to someone who works in the Title IX office. The bottom line is you shouldn’t have to carry this with you.

Susan Stone:

That’s right.

Kristina Supler:

Talk to someone on campus to find out what can be done to help you.

Susan Stone:

I would say though, before it even escalates, if you have healthy boundaries going into a professional situation and you really keep that professional wall up, typically people read that.

Kristina Supler:

Right. Healthy boundaries avoid the slippery slope of, “Gee, this person sent this text as a friend because we really do have a lot in common. We like coffee and yoga,” or is he or she or they trying to maybe poke around and see if there’s something more there.

Susan Stone:

Happy hour, last topic, guys, and I think then we have to close. It is okay for those of you who are 21 and older …

Kristina Supler:

That’s right.

Susan Stone:

… to go to happy hour on a Friday. Everyone has done it. It’s a tradition. Hopefully, after this COVID-19 is over, we’ll all resume happy hour. I myself am looking forward to happy hour, but stick to one drink and a water. Getting drunk with co-workers, especially with bosses around …

Kristina Supler:

Not a good look.

Susan Stone:

… not a good luck really. So I’m going to close with a case that we’re working on where someone’s entire professional and personal life is being derailed because a party with colleagues.

Kristina Supler:

So we were recently brought in to help this person whose basically life and career has been turned upside down. Why? Because of a office holiday party. There was drinking and dancing and fun, and everyone’s having a good time. And then, lo and behold, a few weeks later, there’s an allegation that while people were on the dance floor, there was unwanted touching. So what did that mean?

Susan Stone:

So the first thing it meant is because the person was an intern, there was a Title IX investigation and witness statements were gathered. But that’s not all.

Kristina Supler:

Unfortunately, the internship, it was a little bit more of an advanced internship and so, there were some employment issues related to a professionalism hearing. And then, last but not least, what really was devastating is in fact, there was a report to the police. And so, there’s a pending criminal investigation.

Susan Stone:

Now, it’s the trifecta for us, for lawyers because we have to help defend this person in a Title IX hearing, an employment hearing and in a criminal proceeding, but you do not want to go to us for legal representation. You don’t want to be the victim and you don’t want to be the accused.

Susan Stone:

So I’m hoping that you guys got something out of today. We would love to come back and we didn’t unfortunately get through her whole lecture due to some technical difficulties. And just because this is rich content, but stay professional. Update, you are fashion students. So I want to see and hear that you have a beautiful professional wardrobe and do well. Okay, guys? Thank you.

Kristina Supler:

Thank you.

Hillary:

Hi. We’ll continue. Can we all clap?

 

 

 

 

 

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