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Viewpoint: CSNS to confront harassment issues

By Mitch Ernst

I think I speak for many when I say that I have been shocked to see the depth and scope of sexual harassment reports affecting many different kinds of workplace environments. Whether it is politics, the entertainment world, schools or athletic departments, the reports are stunning. Even more stunning are the reports of a culture that allows such behavior to go unreported due to fear of retaliation, disbelief of victims’ claims or simply turning a blind eye. Hey, if we ignore something, it will eventually go away, won’t it? Sadly, the impact and scars of harassment on victims, their families, their relationships and their health, both physically and psychologically, don’t magically go away by ignoring what happened. As we have seen in the news, just the opposite is true. And the culture of turning a blind eye will eventually catch up to those hoping the problem will just go away and will bring down the perpetrators, the enablers, businesses and those who were in charge.

 Chicago-based attorney Tamara Holder.

Chicago-based attorney Tamara Holder.

That is why one of my first acts as president-elect of Central States Numismatic Society will be to make sure the culture of CSNS is one that recognizes that harassment of any kind will not be tolerated at any level in our organization or in our bourse. Therefore, with the leadership of our convention chairman, Kevin Foley, Central States will have a special educational offering at our convention in April. We have invited Chicago-based attorney, former Fox News contributor and harassment victim herself, Tamara Holder, to speak at our convention and to our board. Her topic will be “Sexual Harassment Liability Issues for Numismatic Employers, Event Sponsors and Organizations.” She will be speaking to the public at our 79th anniversary convention at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, April 28 in Nirvana C on the second level of the Schaumburg Convention Center located at 1551 N. Thoreau Dr., Schaumburg, Ill.

You see, I don’t think numismatic education should stop at die varieties or grading seminars. If we think that these kinds of societal issues exist only in every other corner of the world, but not in ours, we do ourselves, the hobby and hobby organizations a great disservice. I believe those in leadership positions have an obligation to have policies in place to clearly define and address these issues if and when they should ever occur. We have an obligation to have the foresight to have procedures in place for complaints, to protect victims, and those who may try to help them, from possible retaliation.

I realize that this is a risk, because human nature tells us not to get involved. “Why should I be concerned?” “This has never happened to me.” “Why should my company be concerned? After all, this might be too controversial and we certainly don’t want to take that kind of business risk.” Risk? Let’s talk about risk and the consequences of ignoring or denying that the problem exists. For example, how about liability claims against board members who become complicit enablers by ignoring and failing to prevent or turning a blind eye to retaliation?

How about the risk of a potential lawsuit? Or, how about the risk of liability claims against board members from shareholders of a for-profit company or against members of a non-profit board to hold them personally liable for judgments against the organization that they could have prevented, but failed to, by becoming enablers of harassing behaviors because they chose to ignore it? Ask the officials at Michigan State University how that business model worked out for them.

Not only does your organization suffer the probable humiliation of being exposed as enablers, but the possible economic consequences could be crippling. First, you may have reduced productivity by the victims due to workplace distractions caused by harassment. Customers may not go to your show or buy coins from your business. Numismatic organizations may discover that they have a reduction in productivity by their governing officials because they have to deal with harassment claims that they failed to prevent or address, and they now have to deal with lawsuits and potential judgments against the organization and themselves personally. Moreover, you may have to deal with an increase in insurance costs caused by claims that could have been prevented by a proactive anti-harassment policy.

Our program at the Central States convention with Tamara Holder is geared to address those potential problems and suggest a possible action plan and answers. I hope you can attend. I encourage you to do so. Information like this is like having a survival kit in your house if there is a tornado, an earthquake or you lose power for an extended period of time. That is why I believe it is the obligation of those in governing positions on boards to have policies in place to clearly define, prevent and have clear complaint procedures to protect victims and third-party reporters against retaliation and to discipline perpetrators. There is an obligation by leadership of all organizations, and society in general, to speak out in order to produce a culture change where harassment becomes simply unacceptable. It is my hope, as incoming president, that this presentation makes the statement that CSNS intends to do just that. After all, isn’t numismatics all about examining change?

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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