When delivering our workplace investigation training, we often discuss the need to assume a wide readership for the investigation reports that we prepare, and to write accordingly. Few of us, however, should expect a readership that the investigators tasked with looking into allegations against the Rutgers men’s basketball coach knew that they would face. Video of the coach’s behaviour during team practices had been widely circulated in the media and, in a sure sign of cultural saturation, had even been parodied by Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live. A review of their report shows a number of steps that they took to ensure that their report was comprehensible and persuasive to the public.
Define Your Mandate
The investigation into Coach Rice was not triggered by leaked practice footage. It was actually the result of a claim by the former Director of Player Development for wrongful termination in retaliation for “blowing the whistle” on Coach Rice’s behaviour to school officials. The university did not simply ask the investigators to consider this allegation, but asked them to look at the behaviour of Coach Rice to determine whether it was in violation of several university and NCAA rules and policies. This mandate was clearly spelled out at the beginning of the report to clarify the scope of the investigation and organize the remainder of the report for the reader.
Test The Evidence
There is a tendency among some investigators to consider video evidence as evidence of the purest kind. While such footage can be persuasive, it is important to test video evidence as you would any other evidence provided to you by a party. The former Director provided Rutgers and the investigators with a DVD of clips of practice footage to support his allegations of bad behaviour. Before reaching any conclusions about the footage, the investigators reviewed the full tapes from which the clips were pulled, put the footage to Coach Rice to respond and sought input from witnesses about the context of the clips. In doing so, the investigators concluded that some (but not all) of the actions on the DVD that appeared problematic out of context actually fell within the range of acceptable conduct for a coach.
Detail Your Process
The investigators outlined their process in detail, including a listing of witnesses, documents reviewed and the manner in which evidence was assessed. In doing so, they made clear to the reader that the complaint was taken seriously and the investigation that they conducted was thorough.
Support Your Conclusions
Sometimes when a new investigator prepares a report, they want to leap from a summary of the evidence to their conclusions. However, it’s important to document the analytical steps that connect the two. In the Rutgers report, the investigators made reference to all policies that they were applying and provided excerpts of the relevant sections. They then noted the factual findings on which they were relying and explained whether or not those facts indicated a violation based on the language and requirements of the policy. Again, they connected the dots for the reader to make clear their line of reasoning and to persuade the reader of their conclusions, creating a highly effective investigation report.
Ultimately, the investigators concluded that Coach Rice did cross the line of permissible conduct and that his actions were a violation of Rutgers Policy. Why not have a look and see if you agree.