The association industry spans niche groups such as the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and the Greeting Card Association, along with powerhouses such as the Motion Picture Association of America, headed by former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), and the American Gaming Association, whose president and CEO is Frank Fahrenkopf, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and an ex-Reagan White House aide.
In recent memory, only one high-profile Washington organization has faced a public dust-up involving employer misconduct, said legal experts specializing in such disputes.
In 2007, the American Red Cross fired its president, Mark Everson, after only six months, citing a “personal relationship” between Everson and “a subordinate employee.”
The firing itself was not as unusual as the organization’s public statement acknowledging the reason, say lawyers specializing in discrimination matters. Although discrimination complaints have declined in recent years, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they remain commonplace in both the public and private sectors.
“I don’t think that this is a rare circumstance,” said Joanna Friedman, a partner with the law firm of Tully Rinckey, which specializes in employment law. “We see that in all types of private-sector and federal-sector law.”
“Quid pro quo” harassment — which might involve an employer offering an employee a raise in exchange for a date, for example — is down, Friedman said. But complaints involving clashes around issues of gender, culture and generation gaps surface frequently, said Friedman and other lawyers.
Many employers are insured against discrimination allegations and settle such matters through their insurance companies. Lawyers specializing in human resource issues advise employers of all stripes to have clear policies in place; to train both workers and supervisors in how to identify, respond to and investigate discrimination allegations; and to have regular training sessions.
“I think that the vast majority of people are good people, and are not intending to cause harm,” said Robert Shoop, director of the Cargill Center for Ethical Leadership at Kansas State University. “But without proper training, people can engage in behavior that is inappropriate, without [that] being intended. And that jeopardizes the association.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.