AEA Ombudsperson Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of making confidential reports to the ombudsperson?
The Association is dedicated to improving the climate of the economics profession by addressing harassment and discrimination in violation of AEA policies and the Code of Conduct. The AEA recognizes that victims of sexual harassment and/or discrimination often are reluctant to take action alone. To address this concern, the Association allows for confidential complaints to the ombudsperson to consolidate such complaints, so that the Association might have the information it needs to assist victims of sexual harassment and discrimination. This may increase the likelihood of identifying a perpetrator who has engaged in multiple acts of sexual harassment and discrimination.
The ombudsperson serves as a central, confidential recipient of reports of harassment and discrimination. If an individual does not want to take any action unless there are others who will come forward with them, the ombudsperson can provide a confidential source to assist in that regard.
The ombudsperson and her law firm also can answer questions about whether particular acts violate the harassment and discrimination policies of the AEA. If an AEA member is unsure whether he or she has experienced or witnessed conduct in violation of such policies, he or she can call the ombudsperson for a consultation without making a report. The ombudsperson can advise those who wish to report harassment or discrimination regardless of whether a previous report has been made about the same individual. For a broader overview of the ombudsperson’s role, see the letter from former AEA President Ben Bernanke announcing the appointment of the ombudsperson.
For a scholarly overview of ideas underlying this role of the ombudsperson, see Ian Ayres and Cait Unkovic, “Information Escrows,” Michigan Law Review 111:2: 145–96.
How do I file a report with the ombudsperson?
Reports can be sent to the ombudsperson by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), US Mail (Leto Copeley, White & Stradley PLLC 3105 Charles B Root Wynd, Raleigh, NC 27612), telephone (call Cari Green at 919-844-0400 to schedule an appointment), or by filling out this electronic form on the page of the ombudsperson’s website, dedicated solely for this purpose.
If you don't want to speak to anyone about your complaint, you can log in your complaint by email or through the website. You can indicate on the form or in your email that you do not wish to speak directly to the ombudsperson. Your information will be time stamped and retained until and unless you decide to withdraw it.
What information should I provide?
The only information that is essential is:
- Your name (you can discuss with the ombudsperson whether you consent to your name being kept on file);
- Whether you are an AEA member, or are reporting the conduct of an AEA member;
- A confidential way of contacting you that will work indefinitely (we recommend a personal email address and/or a cell phone number);
- A brief description of the incident or behavior; and
- Whether you consent to your information being shared with other complainants of the alleged perpetrator.
You can decide whether or not to speak to the ombudsperson, and whether or not you wish to go beyond simply reporting an incident.
Who can make a report? Who can reports be made against?
Any AEA member can file a report of harassment or discrimination occurring in any professional context. You need not have been an AEA member at the time the behavior occurred. Indeed, if you wish, you may join the AEA solely for the purpose of filing a report. The behavior need not have occurred in the context of an AEA-sponsored event or activity, and the person you are making the complaint about need not be an AEA member.
An AEA member who believes that she or he has been wrongly accused of harassment or discrimination can file a report with the ombudsperson. The ombudsperson’s services are open to all AEA members.
A non-AEA member can file a report of harassment or discrimination committed by an AEA member or that occurred in the context of an AEA-sponsored activity.
Do I have to be a victim myself to make a report?
No. If you have witnessed conduct that you believe to be harassment or discrimination by an AEA member or in the context of an AEA-sponsored event or activity, you can make a report to the AEA regarding such conduct as a bystander, whether or not the victim makes a report. Individuals also can make a complaint if they feel they have been wrongly accused.
What sort of complaints can be made in a report?
Complaints to the AEA ombudsperson should relate to violations of the AEA Policy on Harassment and Discrimination. If you are not sure whether an incident constitutes harassment and discrimination, you should contact the ombudsperson, who can advise as to the best course of action.
Is my report to the ombudsperson the same as an official complaint to the AEA?
It is not. The ombudsperson is not an employee of the American Economic Association but serves as an independent third-party whose services are provided by the AEA to its members, constituents and stakeholders. The ombudsperson does not represent the AEA. Therefore communication with the ombudsperson does not constitute legal notice to the AEA and will not trigger any formal course of action or legal process by the AEA.
If you wish to make a formal complaint to the AEA about the conduct of an AEA member or about conduct that occurred in the context of an AEA-sponsored activity, you should contact the AEA Secretary-Treasurer or the President of the AEA directly. If you wish to make a formal complaint about the conduct of an AEA member, you may wish to consider first reporting the conduct to the entity with the responsibility for overseeing the individual’s conduct. If you have lodged a formal report with the most relevant entity overseeing the conduct of the individual in question, the results of that formal report may form the basis of a report to the AEA. See Procedures Upon Receipt of Complaints Regarding Conduct of AEA Members.
What role does the ombudsperson play after receiving information?
In situations that do not involve harassment or discrimination occurring in the context of AEA-related activities, the ombudsperson's role (in addition to sharing information among the complainants) will be to provide the complainants with relevant information or material, or to make referrals to agencies or organizations as appropriate for personal assistance or legal consultation.
For allegations of harassment or discrimination in the context of AEA-sponsored activities, the ombudsperson may, at her discretion and with the permission of the complainant(s), engage in informal fact-finding and relay the findings to the AEA Executive Committee.
If the allegations concern AEA officers or members of the Board of Trustees, the ombudsperson may engage in informal fact-finding and relay the findings to the AEA Executive Committee. In this situation the ombudsperson will only disclose the identity of the complainant with permission.
In order to maintain impartiality and independence, the ombudsperson does not serve as an official fact-finder or investigator for the AEA. The factual findings of the ombudsperson will have no binding effect on the AEA. Such findings may be considered preliminary and may be accepted in whole or part, ignored or rejected by the AEA.
The ombudsperson will not provide legal advice nor serve as legal counsel to individuals reporting harassment or assault. But the ombudsperson will make every effort to help you.
What happens when there are multiple complaints against an individual?
If the ombudsperson believes that it is warranted, and if appropriate permission has been granted by the complainants, the ombudsperson will share information about the complaints (including, with permission, the identities of the complainants) among the complainants.
Importantly, the ombudsperson will not share the identity of any earlier complainant with a later one without reconfirming with the earlier one that the ombudsperson still has permission to share such information.
Who will see my report?
The only people who can see your report (unless you give permission at some point for it to be shared) are the ombudsperson and people at the ombudsperson’s law firm to whom the ombudsperson gives permission. Your individual report will not be seen by any members of the AEA Board of Trustees, unless you have given specific permission.
The ombudsperson will make periodic reports to the AEA Board of Trustees that include only general, non-personally identifying information.
How confidential will my report be?
The ombudsperson is committed to practicing as an independent neutral, whose work is legally protected from disclosure. Ultimately, though, courts decide what is confidential. Here are some guidelines to protect your confidentiality:
First, the most confidential way to communicate with the ombudsperson is by phone. If you do submit your report by email or through the AEA website, we recommend using personal rather than work email to ensure that your employer does not have access to your report. Likewise, use only a personal, rather than a work, phone number with the ombudsperson.
Second, the AEA ombudsperson is committed to maintaining your confidentiality and therefore will not voluntarily share your identity or your report with anyone without your permission or unless required by a court to do so.
There may be a rare circumstance in which the ombudsperson could be required by a court to disclose written information you have provided. Examples of required disclosure may include:
- If you may have waived the right to confidentiality by filing a lawsuit. If you consult with or hire a lawyer, you should tell the lawyer you have made a complaint with the ombudsperson, so your lawyer can advise you of your rights.
- If your information has been subpoenaed as part of a lawsuit not involving you and a judge orders that the information be disclosed. If the ombudsperson receives such a subpoena, you will be notified and given an opportunity to object to the disclosure. Also, the ombudsperson will object and will resist in court the disclosure of information maintained on behalf of the AEA. If disclosure is required by a judge, your identifying information may still be protected by the court. Disclosure of information in a lawsuit does not necessarily mean automatic disclosure to the public.
- If you are a potential complainant and have concerns about confidentiality, you are encouraged to contact the ombudsperson by telephone.
If I give the ombudsperson information on the phone, does that mean a permanent record has to be created?
No. The ombudsperson will create a permanent and confidential record of information reported verbally with (and only with) the permission of the complainant.
Does the incident I report have to be recent?
No. The ombudsperson is ready to receive reports about incidents that occurred at any time, no matter how long ago they occurred. The American Economic Association is committed to ending all types of discrimination and unlawful harassment by its members and in the context of AEA-sponsored activities. The Association therefore values all information about such conduct that will assist in carrying out this goal.
Can I cancel or withdraw a report?
Yes. A notice that you would like to withdraw a report can be made by email or regular mail, in the same ways that a report can be filed. The ombudsperson will note in her records that your report has been withdrawn.
I was the victim of harassment/discrimination but I do not wish to talk to anyone or take any action. Why should I report the incident?
Your report is still helpful. It can be combined with other reports to identify repeat offenders, and thus help other complainants. This may help not only other victims, but economists who have an interest in making the profession safer for all. And your information can be used for reporting purposes, so that the AEA can track the levels and trends of harassment and discrimination in the profession.
I am thinking of reporting someone to the ombudsperson but I am afraid the person will find out and make my life difficult. Can the ombudsperson protect me?
The ombudsperson has an obligation of confidentiality and will not report your name to any third party without your consent. (See answers to questions 10-12 above).
Retaliation against individuals who make complaints of harassment or discrimination is prohibited by the code of conduct of the AEA and may also be illegal. The ombudsperson can help you determine the best course of action in this situation.
What if I want to make a formal complaint to the AEA?
If you wish to make a formal report to the AEA about the conduct of an AEA member or about conduct that occurred in the context of an AEA-sponsored activity, that complaint should be made to the Secretary-Treasurer of the AEA, or to the AEA President. Please note that once you have made a formal report, the ombudsperson, as a neutral, may no longer serve as an investigator or fact-finder regarding the matter. You may discuss with the ombudsperson the meaning of this policy and how it may affect your decision whether to file a formal complaint or make a report to the ombudsperson.
How can I get more information about this process?
You can contact the ombudsperson to ask questions about this process by email (email@example.com) or phone (call Cari Green at 919-844-0400 to schedule an appointment) or in person during her drop-in office hours at the ASSA meetings.
You can find more information about the ombudsperson, Leto Copeley, here. You may also follow her on Twitter: @LetoC.