AEA Ombudsperson Frequently Asked Questions


  1. How do I file a report?

    Reports can be sent to the ombudsperson by email (aeaombuds@cjglawfirm.com), US Mail (Leto Copeley, Copeley Johnson & Groninger PLLC, 300 Blackwell St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701), telephone (call Kathy Garrett at 919-937-9382 to schedule an appointment), or by filling out this electronic form  on the page of the ombudsperson's website, dedicated solely for this purpose.

    You do not have to speak to anyone about your complaint if you do not wish to do so. But you can still log in your complaint by email or through the website. This information will be time stamped and retained until and unless you decide to withdraw it.

  2. What information should I provide?

    The only information that is essential is:

    • Your name;
    • 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.

  3. Who can make a report? Who can reports be made against?

    Any AEA member can file a report of harassment or discrimination 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 events or activity, and the person you are making the complaint about need not be an AEA member.

    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.

  4. 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, the AEA encourages you to report such conduct, whether or not the victim makes a report.

  5. What sort of complaints can be made in a report?

    The purpose of the confidential reports is to document allegations of conduct that violates the AEA Policy on Harassment and Discrimination and to solve the coordination problem in dealing with multiple incidents of sexual harassment and other types of discriminatory misconduct. Thus, complaints should be related to those matters. Although the AEA takes other types of misconduct, including plagiarism, scientific fraud, and favoritism extremely seriously, concerns about those issues should be pursued through other avenues.

    If you are not sure whether an incident falls under the scope of harassment and discrimination, you can still contact the ombudsperson. The ombudsperson can help you determine what the best course of action is.

  6. 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), conduct an investigation and relay the findings to the AEA Executive Committee.

    For allegations of harassment or discrimination by AEA employees or officers, the ombudsperson may, if warranted by the allegations, conduct an investigation and relay the findings to the AEA Executive Committee. In this situation the ombudsperson will disclose the identity of the complainant only to the extent necessary to enforce the policies of 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 AEA officers.

    The ombudsperson will make an annual report to the AEA Executive Committee that includes only general, non-identifying information.

  9. How confidential will my report be?

    First, if you submit your report by email, we recommend using personal rather than work email to ensure that your employer cannot have access to your report. Likewise, use only a personal, rather than a work, phone number with the ombudsperson.

    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. (For an exception when the ombudsperson may take independent action with respect to an AEA officer or employee, see paragraph 6 above.)

    There may be a circumstance in which the ombudsperson could be required by a court to disclose written information you have provided. Examples of required disclosure would include:

    • If you are complaining about the conduct of an AEA employee or officer. Please understand the AEA has an obligation as an organization to enforce its own Policy on Harassment and Discrimination.
    • 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 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.
    • If you are a potential complainant and have concerns about confidentiality, you are encouraged to contact the ombudsperson by telephone.
  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. What is the purpose of being able to make confidential reports to the ombudsperson?

    A primary purpose is to solve an important coordination problem. Often, victims of sexual harassment or discrimination are reluctant to take any action because they do not want to bear the burden of acting alone. This can lead to a situation where a perpetrator is engaging in serial acts of sexual harassment, or of discrimination, but each of their victims does not come forward because they do not know if other victims will (or even if there are other victims).

    The ombudsperson can solve the coordination problem by serving as a central, confidential recipient of reports of harassment or discrimination. If an individual does not want to take any action unless there are others who will come forward with them, the ombudsperson will take no further action unless there are multiple complaints against an individual.

    Solving this "coordination" problem is not the only role of the ombudsperson. The ombudsperson and her law firm stand ready to answer questions about harassment and discrimination that may violate the policies of the AEA. If an AEA member is unsure whether what they have experienced or witnessed constitutes harassment or discrimination they may call the ombudsperson for a consultation without making a report. The ombudsperson can provide advice and guidance to those who wish to report harassment or discrimination regardless whether a previous report has been made about the same individual. For a broader overview of the ombudsperson's role, see the letter from 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.  https://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr/vol111/iss2/1/

  14. 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 it can be used for reporting purposes, so that the AEA can track the levels and trends of harassment and discrimination in the profession.

  15. 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, unless required by a court (see question 9).

    Retaliation against individuals who make complaints of harassment or discrimination are against the code of conduct of the AEA and is also often illegal. The ombudsperson can help you determine the best course of action in this situation.

  16. How can I get more information about this process?

    You can contact the ombudsperson to ask questions about this process by email (aeaombuds@cjglawfirm.com) or phone (call Kathy Garrett at 919-937-9382 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, and her law firm, Copeley Johnson & Groninger PLLC at the firm's home page.