TiK ToK pop star Kesha wants out of her contract with Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald) and is suing to break it. If you read about the situation like that, it makes complete sense that a judge would deny her request. After all, the whole purpose of contracts is to prevent one person from walking away.

What makes this case different is that Kesha claims that Dr. Luke drugged and raped her years ago. Isn't a claim of rape enough to let the victim out of the contract?

I'm not a lawyer, but there are lessons in this for sexual harassment or other forms of illegal discrimination claims within your business. Most sexual harassment claims don't rise to felony status, like Kesha's claim of rape does. Companies don't have to obtain a conviction to terminate or punish an employee, but they do need to investigate.

The problem in the Kesha case is that she's just made a claim. He hasn't been tried and convicted. I presume that the judge is correct not to grant her request based on a claim only. (Again, as a non-lawyer, I'll just assume that the law was applied correctly here.)

When an employee comes to HR or to a member of management and complains of sexual harassment, you need to investigate. You cannot just take the word of one person over another. Kesha's allegations are pretty horrible. CBS News reports:

  • Dr. Luke once forced Kesha to "snort an illicit drug" before a flight and then raped her while she was intoxicated and drugged.
  • The producer forced Kesha to drink with him, then gave her what he called "sober pills." Kesha claims she woke up the next day naked in Dr. Luke's bed sore, sick and with no recollection of how she got there.
  • Dr. Luke told Kesha "that if she ever mentioned the rape to anyone, he would shut her career down and otherwise destroy not only her life but her entire family's lives as well."
  • Dr. Luke threatened Kesha physically, and she subsequently ran away from his Malibu home, running barefoot down the Pacific Coast Highway and hiding in the nearby mountains.

In response, Dr. Luke claims that these accusations are false and designed to get out of the contract. You cannot, under any circumstances, simply believe one of these two. Somebody is absolutely lying. It's also highly possible that the truth is somewhere in the middle. In sexual harassment cases, it's highly possible that both people involved lack innocence. As I've not investigated this situation, I remain completely neutral.

That neutrality is critical in an HR investigation. As Employment Attorney Robin Shea points out, in business relationships a consensual relationship can often evolve into a sexual harassment claim when that becomes advantageous to one of the parties.

Most sexual harassment cases don't involve felonies. In this case, Kesha is claiming rape, so police should be called. This is not something you should take lightly. Take the case of pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, who lost a $250 million sexual harassment case. One of the stories that emerged was where an employee claimed she had been raped, and the company punished her. Novartis lost for that (and many other reasons, seriously, it was a mess).

You want to take all claims seriously. (And should you have a sexual harassment charge, here is a quick guide on how to conduct a sexual harassment investigation.) But a charge isn't enough to end a contract or fire the accused person. By all means, put the accused person on a leave of absence while investigating, but don't act rashly. Don't immediately believe or disbelieve anyone involved. Conduct your investigation and then act.

A sexual harassment claim isn't enough to derail anyone. You absolutely need to investigate from an impartial position. Always.

Published on: Feb 23, 2016
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