Letter to AEA Membership Regarding the New AEA Ombudsperson
To the members of the American Economic Association:
A recent letter to the membership from Olivier Blanchard (past president), Janet Yellen (president-elect), and me emphasized the determination of the AEA Executive Committee to fight harassment and discrimination in the economics profession, laying out a number of new initiatives. (See the AEA Professional Code of Conduct and the recently approved policy on harassment and discrimination.) Among the measures proposed in our letter was the establishment of an ombudsperson, to whom AEA members could report problems or concerns and seek advice.
Today we are announcing that the AEA has engaged Leto Copeley of the law firm Copeley Johnson & Groninger PLLC to serve as ombudsperson. Leto and her firm have long experience in employment law, including the law on harassment and discrimination, and she has regularly provided training on best practices in this area. We are delighted that she has agreed to work with us.
Our hope is that the ombudsperson will be a resource for addressing issues of harassment and discrimination throughout the profession. The ombudsperson is prepared to respond to complaints or concerns about harassment or discrimination in three ways:
- Although she does not serve as legal counsel to individuals reporting harassment or discrimination, she stands ready to advise on next steps (including seeking formal counsel), to provide the complainant (AEA member or person questioning the conduct of an AEA member) with relevant information or materials, 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 or involving AEA officers or employees the ombudsperson may at her discretion conduct an investigation and relay the findings to the AEA Executive Committee, which will then decide whether to take any further action. Investigations into allegations regarding persons who are neither employees nor officers of the AEA will be undertaken only with the permission of the complainant(s).
- With (and only with) the permission of the complainant, the ombudsperson will create a permanent and confidential record of any communication that includes an allegation of harassment by or of an AEA member or in the context of an AEA-sponsored activity. The reason for the recordkeeping is both for legal purposes and to help identify repeat offenders or patterns of abuse; however, records will not be shared with anyone without reconfirmation of permission from the original caller.
Effective immediately, any AEA member is eligible to consult with the ombudsperson on matters involving harassment or discrimination in a professional context (including, but not limited to, AEA-sponsored events or activities). There are several ways of contacting the ombudsperson:
- To speak with Leto, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her paralegal Kathy Garrett at 919-937-9382 and you will be contacted to arrange an appointment.
- Leto will hold office hours at the ASSA meetings in January.
- Reports of instances of harassment for the purpose of creating a permanent record can be made by phone, email, or regular mail.
- Reports of instances of harassment for the purposes of creating a permanent record may also be made by filling out an electronic form on the Copeley Johnson & Groninger PLLC website page dedicated to this purpose.
- The AEA has established an ombudsperson page on its website that can be accessed here: https://www.aeaweb.org/about-aea/aea-ombudsperson.
As an attorney, the ombudsperson will maintain the information received with the utmost confidentiality possible. For details on the limits of confidentiality in written records, see the AEA Ombudsperson FAQs at https://www.aeaweb.org/about-aea/aea-ombudsperson/faq. The FAQs provide a range of additional information about the ombudsperson, particularly regarding her role in creating and keeping records of allegations of harassment and discrimination. If you are a potential complainant and have concerns about confidentiality, you are encouraged to contact the ombudsperson by telephone.
If you believe that you have been the victim of harassment or discrimination, or if you have witnessed harassment or discrimination toward an AEA member, even if some time in the past, consider contacting the ombudsperson. The information you provide may help to identify repeat offenders or patterns of abuse and thus be a starting point for preventing future occurrences. The economics profession should be open and welcoming to everyone, and the elimination of abusive behavior is critical for achieving that goal.
Ben Bernanke, President