April 29: A letter to members

Dear members,

The NASW Board would like to inform you that a complaint in process has been deactivated due to the resignation of a member who was the subject of that complaint. While we do not intend to set a precedent of commenting on complaints that come before the organization, circumstances have prompted us to do so herein.

Case summary

Seven active NASW members submitted a complaint in fall 2020. Five volunteers of the Review Committee, drawn from the Standing Ethics Committee and the Board, read, investigated, and considered the complaint, and reported their findings to the Board. The Board agreed with the Review Committee’s findings, which found sufficient factual basis to proceed with several issues raised in the complaint and wrote a Notice of Complaint to the subject of the complaint. (The NASW complaint process is detailed here.)

A Notice of Complaint is a confidential document provided only to the subject(s). The notice outlines the findings of the Board and is intended to provide enough information for the subject to mount a defense and preserve as much confidentiality as possible for witness(es) and complainant(s). Where possible, the notice relies on the least sensitive information gathered in an investigation - for instance, publicly available information. For the same sensitivity reasons, the original complaint is not attached in the notice nor provided to the subject, though excerpts may be used.

By NASW's process, the subject is given the opportunity to formally respond to the notice, and their formal response or request for a hearing is a critical component of due process. The response also is important to the Board for determining next steps — including the eventual decision of whether sanctions are warranted.

In this case, the subject of this complaint did not submit their response; they resigned their membership instead — an action that deactivates the complaint process without resolution.

Board remarks regarding this case

In most cases, NASW would keep details of the complaint, the investigation, the findings, and any defense private. NASW members should not expect to see results or summaries of any complaints administered. Typically, a simple, annual tally with aggregate status (for instance, 3 in-process, 2 closed) will be offered without any identifying information.

In certain cases, however, a statement to membership may be warranted at the conclusion of a specific complaint process. We feel that this is such a case because the subject has not complied with the rules of our process, namely 1) to keep things they’ve learned within the confines of the process private; and 2) to refrain from any kind of retaliation (outing, naming, bullying) towards any of the complainants or witnesses. Instead, the subject has continued to engage in harassing behavior similar to that alleged in the notice to subject. These behaviors continued after the initial submission of the complaint, they continued after the anonymous posting of the complaint submission online, and they have continued since the subject's resignation.

We condemn these behaviors and note that harassment and bullying of others is not necessary to defend oneself, nor is it professional or acceptable.

Regarding confidentiality

Privacy is central to the integrity of our established complaint process.

We are confident that no NASW Board, staff, or Review Committee member was involved in sharing the original complaint to parties outside the ethics review process. From what evidence we can gather, the original submission was made public by unknown, outside parties.

While no organization can guarantee against breaches of privacy by willful or accidental actors, the NASW Board has and will defend our privacy principles wherever possible. Through legal response, we defended the confidentiality of all involved in any past, present, or future complaint by filing a successful objection to a subpoena that NASW received in 2020.

Discussion of complaints outside of the process shows disregard for all individuals involved. Such disregard can perpetuate a chilling effect on submission of future complaints, and, as a result, the community’s efforts to build an inclusive organization.

Accordingly, all members participating in the complaint process are expected to adhere to this same regard for privacy and confidentiality. And while NASW discussion group users are always welcome to discuss the mechanics and spirit of our organizational policies, discussion of any specifics within a complaint — or that of individuals involved — will not be permitted in our forums.

Your continued role

NASW is a professional society. The primary sanctions it can hand down are the removal of member benefits, honors, and awards and, ultimately, the termination of a member’s membership. However, we also can and must steadfastly support the values of our community where we can: on our platforms, at our events, and within our membership to ensure that our spaces are free of harassment, discrimination, or incivility.

In the coming weeks, we will be reviewing and reflecting on the implementation of the complaint process. We will share what we learn about any improvements in managing expectations going forward at the opportune time.

And as always, we encourage and welcome your participation as NASW members in the steering of our organization. From our Board to our committees, it is you, our members, who step up and lead and guide our community. Volunteer for a role, run for a future election, or simply send us your thoughts via president@nasw.org. Let's move our community forward, together.

Thank you,
The NASW Board

Apr. 29, 2021

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