2014-10-09 / Views

Our Opinion

Winning and losing

In the end, it took a federal judge to do what the Leelanau-Benzie Health Department should have done, which is to apologize to former health director Bill Crawford for how he has been treated.

But we give District Judge Robert Holmes Bell credit for not trying to fix history by bending the law. Judicial restraint is rarely rewarded, and apparently left a bad taste in the mouth of its dispatcher.

“I don’t think this is right, what happened, and Mr. Crawford, I don’t think you were treated well. I want you to know that,” Judge Bell said in court.

Mr. Bell, in a ruling handed down last month, tossed a federal lawsuit filed by Mr. Crawford against his present employer, the Leelanau-Benzie District Health Department. Mr. Crawford was accused of sexual harassment by employees under him for a litany of actions that were difficult to quantify and that certainly did not represent clear violations of any law or policy.

He was “charged” with following employees into the coffee room, and, my gosh, even talking to them in the parking lot at the start of the work day. Perhaps the worst allegation was that he stared at the chests of female coworkers, although his optometrist blamed an eye disorder for leaving such an impression.

For those reasons, he was demoted for harassment of subordinants before being told the nature or seriousness of allegations made against him or who was making them. He was provided a “name-clearing hearing” after his demotion had already been handed down and the scarlet letters that spell “sexual harassment” had been been hung around his neck. His family, pastor and many friends — 40 strong — stood up for his reputation.

The judge’s decision boiled down to employment law, which saved the Health Department from what could have been a big settlement or order to pay damages. The decision had nothing to do with whether members of the twocounty District Health Board — or their original attorney James Young — acted properly.

And the suit’s dismissal had nothing to do with whether Mr. Crawford did anything wrong. Mr. Crawford was an “at-will” employee, which apparently means he could be demoted to a position with half the pay for any reason — or without a reason.

Sexual and work place harassment represent a serious violation of not only law, but also the platform that allows Americans to prosper and succeed. Allegations require an extensive investigation that results in a fair conclusion respecting the rights of those involved.

The bully and knee-jerk actions of the Health Board and Health Department have done a disservice to those ideals.

We, too, are sorry, Mr. Crawford.

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