Due Process Should Precede Judgement
One does not exaggerate by saying that the sexual harassment allegations directed at the American-Arab anti-Discrimination Committee’s (ADC) regional director Imad Hamad constitute the most important event to shock the community since the 9/11 attacks. As a result of these allegations, a number of people from the Arab American community have come out, directly or indirectly, arguing for two things. First, to assert, without any legal basis for personal knowledge, that due to the credibility and the respectability of the accusers, these allegations are “true.” Second, to say that we basically need no investigation and that Mr. Hamad should be fired because these two respected and credible women making the allegations, Ms. Rana Abbas and Representative Rashida Tlaib, have made these allegations in a sensational way in the media and the media attention have put the community in a dim light.
This story has one bright side. I never knew that the Arab American community has such a solid contingent of supporters of women’s rights. I definitely did not see or hear that in my more than ten years of being a part of the Arab American community of Michigan, attending many of the community’s activists’ and leaders’ meetings where very few women were in attendance.
Let me make one thing clear. I am not saying these women were not harassed; nor am I stating they were. No one, other than Hamad and the women, was in the room when the alleged harassment occurred. No third party could state with conviction that anything did or did not happen. What we should know for a fact is that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, everyone deserves a fair hearing (or in this case an investigation), and those who make allegations have the burden of proof.
Despite the alleged fears of damage to reputation as a reason given for not having gone public with these allegations previously, we hear a number of people coming forward to say that they have heard of the accusations/allegations years before and that they have “known” of the alleged sexual harassment for years. “Knowing” and “hearing” about something are misrepresented to the public as one and the same thing.
It is understandable that any woman who is subjected to harassment has reservations to step forward. It is also understandable that sometimes it takes years to build up courage to speak up. But why not through the proper protocol rather than a smear campaign in the media?
If an employee is charged with wrongdoing the employer is supposed to investigate the matter before taking action. A person making allegations of discrimination or harassment has the burden of proof. Otherwise it is one person’s word against the other. That is the law in this country. In matters of sexual harassment (as well as other disparate treatment) allegations, the organization, or an outside federal or state agency that deals with discrimination or harassment, needs to have a written complaint signed by the people making the allegation in order to conduct an investigation.
An open letter is not proper protocol, and does not prove that an incident happened.
It is disturbing that anyone could be or is subjected to sexual harassment. It is never acceptable. However it is not acceptable to take away a person’s right for due process. It is innocent until proven guilty.
These women are known, admired and have worked in the community. The same is true about Imad as well- he is known, admired and has worked in the community. Given this reality, it would have been more responsible if Ms. Abbas or Representative Tlaib had directed these women with newer issues to EEOC or the Michigan Department of Civil Rights if they did not believe ADC National would be helpful- and there is no evidence of that. In fact, former president of ADC the Honorable Mary Rose Oakar told me that sexual harassment allegations were raised during her tenure and were investigated thoroughly. Given the allegations and the evidence at the time, and upon the recommendation of an outside expert attorney, there was insufficient evidence to warrant adverse action, such as termination, against Mr. Hamad.
There is a responsible way to raise this issue in seeking justice and accountability. Lynching a man, making a media spectacle of serious matter in order to short circuit due process, is neither responsible nor conducive to justice and accountability.