Harassment Policy (Resolution 33)

Democratic Socialists of America’s Harassment Policy was passed at the August 2017 DSA Convention and amended in 2021. If you have questions or concerns about grievance matters, please contact the National Grievance Program email address at [email protected].

Democratic Socialists of America is committed to creating a space that is welcoming and inclusive to members of all genders, races, and classes. The following policy provides guidelines to ensure that everyone is able to organize without fear of harassment, abuse, or harm.

  1. Scope
      1. Prohibited behavior. Members shall not engage in harassment on the basis of sex, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, physical appearance, disability, race, color, religion, national origin, class, age, or profession. Harassing or abusive behavior, such as unwelcome attention, inappropriate or offensive remarks, slurs, or jokes, physical or verbal intimidation, stalking, inappropriate physical contact or proximity, and other verbal and physical conduct constitutes harassment when:
        1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of a member’s continued affiliation with DSA;
        2. Submission or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for organizational decisions affecting such individual; or
        3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of creating a hostile environment interfering with an individual’s capacity to organize within DSA.
      2. Other protected classes. Harassment based on categories not encompassed by those listed in section (a) will be evaluated at the discretion of the HGO and Steering Committee representatives.
  2. Reporting Harassment
      1. Complaints. Members may follow the standard DSA complaint process as set out in the following sections if they believe they have been harassed by another member. There will be no time limits requiring the accuser to file a report within any amount of time after the alleged harassment has occurred.
      2. Harassment Grievance Officers. Members filing a formal complaint must contact a DSA harassment grievance officer (“HGO”).
        1. Each DSA chapter with over one hundred members will:
          1. Vet and appoint at least two members to serve as the designated HGO(s)
          2. Determine term limits for HGO(s) and develop methods for removing HGO(s) for cause.
            Chapters with one hundred or fewer members will direct all grievance complaints through the national HGO.

ii. DSA National will:

1. Vet and appoint at least one staff member to serve as the designated national HGO;
2. Determine appropriate training requirements for HGOs
3. Determine term limits for HGO(s) and develop methods for removing HGO(s) for cause.

iii. Each DSA chapter with over one hundred members and DSA National will:

1. Establish an email address to function as a confidential reporting “hotline” that is only accessible by the HGO(s); and
2. Develop template forms both for reporting and responding to accusations of harassment that include:

a. The parties’ contact information
b. The names of the parties involves
c. A description of the reported incident

3. Develop template forms for appealing the form of relief determined by the Steering Committee that include:

a. The grounds of the appeal

iv. Each DSA chapter and DSA National will have these structures in place no later than July 1, 2018.

              c. Reporting procedure and timeline

        1. After a written report has been submitted–whether through the email hotline or otherwise:
          1. The HGO(s) responsible for the reporting channel used by the accuser will contact the accused member within seven days to notify them that a report has been filed against them and request a written response to the report either affirming or denying its substance;
          2. The accused will submit their written response within seven days of being notified. If the accused does not meet this deadline, the HGO will recommend the Steering Committee move to take appropriate disciplinary action;
          3. If the accused denies the substance of the report, the HGO overseeing the dispute will have the option to investigate the report by:
            1. interviewing other members with direct knowledge of the substance of the report;
            2. requesting documentation from either the accuser or accused or any other parties directly involved; or
            3. employing any and all other means deemed necessary, with the utmost respect for the confidentiality of the parties, within a time period not to exceed ten days.
        1. The HGO(s) responsible for adjudicating the dispute will determine whether the report is credible and, if necessary, make a recommendation to Steering Committee of appropriate disciplinary action as soon as practicable, but ultimately within thirty days of the report being filed. This is to ensure the timely, efficient, accurate, and discreet adjudication of all reports. The HGO(s) may notify Steering of the accuser’s report and its substance at any time after the report is filed but must give written notice to both the accuser and the accused member before doing so.

              d. HGO responsibilities. The HGO(s) will:

        1. Receive, acknowledge receipt of, and archive accuser reports;
        2. Contact the accused to notify them of the accusations, request their written response, and archive any written response;
        3. Conduct any necessary investigation of the claim; and
        4. Present their findings to the Steering Committee with a written report and, if necessary, a recommendation for disciplinary action.
        5. If necessary, HGO(s) may recommend that parties do not contact each other for the duration of the investigative process.
        6. Compile a yearly report that details:
            1. How many reports were made
            2. How many were taken to the disciplinary process
            3. How many disciplinary actions were taken
            4. Any recommended changes for making the reporting system more effective

This report will not include personally identifying information of any parties in any dispute. The local HGO(s) will send the yearly report to the national HGO(s) no later than January 1 of the new year.

                 e. Confidentiality.

        1. The complainant/survivor should not be silenced.  HGOs should explain that maintaining confidentiality may help expedite the investigation, preserve the integrity of the process, and de-escalate conflict. A complainant who agrees to confidentiality should understand that the confidentiality request is only for the period of the investigation.
        2. Anyone involved in the investigation, including the complainant and the accused, must not escalate conflict during the investigatory process.
        3. HGOs and chapter leaders must abide by the confidentiality requirements in the Chapter Impartiality Form, which requires chapter leaders to keep the grievance deliberations confidential and to discuss the matters only in executive session.
        4. In order to prevent additional harm and/or the spreading of misinformation, Chapter leaders must work with the NHGO before releasing information about the grievance outcome at the chapter level. (Chapter Statements re: Member Status prior to Appeal)
        5. The NPC must abide by confidentiality requirements.  All NPC members who receive grievance-related information are required to sign the NPC version of the Chapter Impartiality Form, which requires NPC members to keep the grievance deliberations confidential and to discuss them only in executive session. Grievance matters are initially determined by the Steering Committee, which keeps information about grievances limited to a small group of people. The Steering Committee may, but is not required to, refer the grievance to the full NPC if the Steering Committee is unable to reach a consensus.
        6. Chapter leadership and HGOs must work through the NHGO and not contact the NPC directly about grievance matters. Chapters and/or parties are not permitted to “lobby” the NPC about their desired outcome on appeal, and efforts to do so may be considered misconduct.
        7. When the NPC has ruled on a grievance matter, the ruling shall be privately conveyed to the parties in a manner that ensures the safety of survivors and fairness to the accused. In releasing the details of an investigation or appeal to the Chapter or to the public, Chapter leadership should be careful not to release details that would harm the survivor or other members.  In most cases, it is unnecessary for the entire chapter to know the grievance outcome, as long as the HGOs and/or chapter leaders already familiar with the situation know whether the grievance has been upheld and can proceed accordingly to protect member safety. Typically, the parties and/or chapter are specifically advised about what to communicate about the outcome, whether they need to correct prior miscommunications, or merely to confirm a party’s membership status.
        8. The NHGO and National staff responsible for maintaining membership records will maintain a list of expelled members. A chapter may inquire if someone has been expelled and is ineligible for membership, and the NHGO or National staff will ONLY confirm or deny their presence on the list. Chapters will not be provided access to the entire list unless the NHGO determines that a particular chapter request merits an exception.

3. Remedies and penalties

    1. Determinations
      1. All reports will be assessed on a case-by-case basis by the HGO(s) and Steering Committee associated with the accuser’s reporting channel. The ultimate disposition of each report will be made by the chapter’s Steering Committee or, in the case of DSA National, the NPC, after that body reviews the written report and recommendation of the HGO(s).

             b. Standard for Determining if a Report is Credible

      1. The chapter’s Steering Committee or, in the case of DSA National, the NPC will find the factual allegation in a report “credible” if it more likely than not occurred.

       c. Remedies and Penalties

      1. If a chapter’s Steering Committee or, in the case of DSA National, the NPC finds the report to be credible, they are authorized to carry out the following remedies and penalties:
        1. A formal discussion between the accused and the Steering Committee to develop a plan to change the harassing behavior(s);
        2. Suspension from committee meetings and other chapter or organizational events;
        3. Removal from chapter committee(s);
        4. Removal from DSA; and
        5. Any and all other relief deemed necessary and just by the chapter or national leadership.
      2. If a local chapter has established suspension or expulsion procedures, the Steering Committee is authorized to enforce these remedies and penalties in accordance with those procedures.
      3. If the local chapter does not have established suspension or expulsion procedures, they will adopt the procedures outlined in Article III, Section 4 of the DSA Constitution and Article I, Section 3 of DSA bylaws.
        1. The NPC majority required in these procedures will instead be a Steering Committee majority.
        2. Local chapters that lack these procedures shall have suspension and expulsion procedures in place by July 1, 2018.
      4. DSA national is authorized to  enforce certain remedies and penalties in accordance with Article III, Section 4 of the DSA Constitution and Article I, Section 3 of DSA Bylaws
        1. Removal from DSA; and
        2. Any and all other relief deemed necessary and just by the chapter or national leadership.
      5. The appropriate form of relief will be determined by, among other things:
        1. The request of the accuser;
        2. The severity of the offense;
        3. The response of the accused; and
        4. The accused’s relevant behavioral histories.

Harassment Grievances shall be grievances filed in relation to the national DSA harassment policy, Resolution 33. HGOs and the chapter leadership [Steering Committee, Executive Committee, or other similar body] shall follow the procedures laid out by the national policy in resolving the grievance and taking any necessary disciplinary action up to and including expulsion. HGOs will determine if a grievance is a harassment grievance or not. A mixed case (one with conduct covered by Resolution 33 and other conduct that is not covered) shall be handled as a harassment grievance.

Non-Harassment Grievances shall be grievances that allege a member has a substantial disagreement with the principles or policies of national DSA, has engaged in undemocratic, disruptive, or abusive behavior that does not meet the national definition of harassment, and/or violates chapter bylaws provisions, and/or the chapter or National Code of Conduct. The process for resolving these grievances will be the same as for harassment grievances, following the national harassment policy, except that any decisions of expulsion reached by the chapter leadership must be confirmed in accordance with the chapter’s bylaws with any required vote by the membership.

Grievance Resolution: The chapter leadership, absent any member named as a party to a grievance or otherwise subject to recusal, will make a final decision as to the credibility of the grievance and recommended solutions including but not limited to mediation, suspension of members, and/or removal of members from committees. The Steering Committee may expel members from DSA in response to credible harassment grievances and may recommend expulsion according to the chapter’s expulsion procedures in response to credible non-harassment grievances and or conduct that violates the chapter or National Code of Conduct.

Appeals: Either party may appeal the resolution of a harassment grievance to DSA’s National Political Committee (NPC). Either party may appeal the resolution of a non-harassment grievance according to the chapter’s expulsion procedures contained within chapter bylaws. A party may appeal expulsions to the DSA National Political Committee (NPC).  Appeals to the NPC shall be initiated by contacting the National Harassment and Grievance Officer, who will provide the party with the appropriate appeal forms and maintain confidentiality with the NPC until the final appeal has been decided.

Expulsions and Suspensions: Chapter-only expulsions, where the member is expelled from the chapter but permitted to become an at-large member of DSA, are not appealable. All expulsions, whether from the chapter or decided by the NPC, shall be indefinite. When suspending a member, chapters and/or the NPC may set a suspension period not to exceed three years and/or establish conditions for re-integration at the end of the suspension period. Any conflict over whether the conditions or duration of a suspension are reasonable or have been satisfactorily met can be appealed to the DSA National Political Committee by contacting the DSA National Harassment and Grievance Officer.

Any removal from chapter membership that lasts for a period of three years or less and/or which does not have a time limit but comes with conditions for return not impacting membership status is considered a suspension, not an expulsion, and as such, is not appealable to the DSA National Political Committee.

           d. Codes of Conduct; Integrating National and Chapter Codes of Conduct with Resolution 33

      • Chapters must have applicable Codes of Conduct in place
      • Chapters may adapt the National Code of Conduct to fit the Chapter’s specific needs, use its own Code of Conduct, or use the National Code of Conduct.
      • Chapters must ensure that all places and spaces where DSA interactions take place are covered by all applicable Codes of Conduct: physical meetings, public events, virtual meetings, online communication (Slack, etc.), interpersonal contact about DSA business, personal or romantic relationships between DSA members that impact safety in the chapter.
      • Chapters must ensure that all applicable Codes of Conduct provide mechanisms for addressing conflicts/problems in the moment so that everything doesn’t have to be a formal grievance.
      • Chapters are encouraged to avail themselves of training and resources on conflict management, which are available from the NHGO.
      • Chapters must ensure that all applicable Codes of Conduct permit restorative justice (RJ), mediation, and/or other remedies.
      • Mediation and RJ must be voluntary.
      • Mediation and RJ cannot be imposed on parties and are not alternatives to an investigation.
      • In order to employ mediation or RJ, the complainant/survivor must be demonstrably comfortable with that approach, and the accused must be ready to acknowledge responsibility for the harm caused.
      • Chapters should work with trained mediators and/or trained RJ practitioners. Untrained persons performing these functions can exacerbate the harm and cause conflicts to escalate.

e. Appeals process. Either party may appeal the form of relief determined by the Steering Committee by filling out the appellate form created by the accuser’s reporting channel. Appeals must be filed within thirty days of receiving written notice of the Steering Committee’s decision. The limited grounds for appeal are:

      1. Either party believes the behavior was not interpreted using the standards for harassment set out in Section 1a;
      2. Procedural errors, misconduct, or conflicts of interest affected the fairness of the outcome; and
      3. The remedy or penalty determined by Steering was grossly disproportionate to the violation committed.

f. Retaliation. This policy prohibits retaliation against any member for bringing a complaint of harassment pursuant to this policy. This policy also prohibits retaliation against a person who assists someone with a complaint of harassment or participates in any manner in an investigation or resolution of a complaint of discrimination or harassment. Retaliatory behaviors include threats, intimidation, reprisals, and/or adverse actions related to organizing. If any party to the complaint believes there has been retaliation, they may inform the HGO, who will determine whether to factor the retaliation into the original complaint, or treat it as an individual incident.

The following behaviors may be considered retaliatory and can be considered either as part of the original grievance or as the subject of a new grievance involving new or different parties:

    • Confidentiality breaches that expose confidential information outside of the grievance process, targeting the complainant, the accused and/or other individuals involved in the process;
    • Filing grievances in bad faith with no merit against individuals they want to be suspended or expelled for political or personal reasons;  
    • Organizing to avoid accountability among friends, supporters, and others inside and outside DSA to foster support and degenerate the grievance process and/or to enlist support from outside organizations;
    • Publicly disparaging complainant or others involved in the investigation by directly and/or indirectly targeting participants with profanity, slurs, or other language prohibited by Resolution 33 and codes of conduct;
    • Vigilantism/self-help measures that include public shaming, contacting employers, community groups, family members, and romantic/relationship partners, and other harmful public actions;
    • Escalation of conflict while the grievance is pending by using social media, personal contacts, political, organizing, and social networks, and various other ways that result in an escalation of the conflict;
    • Manipulating chapter election processes to prevent parties involved in grievances from assuming leadership positions;
    • Failing to reveal a conflict of interest or failure to recuse by those involved in decision-making with regard to a grievance and HGOs who do not reveal actual and potential conflicts of interest and/or do not recuse themselves from matters where such a conflict might arise. The Chapter Impartiality Form identifies basic principles which, if not followed, taint the investigation and violate basic fairness principles as well as the actual rule;
    • Taking other adverse action against those involved in the process, including piling on additional work for people in leadership positions to make them look bad, and subjecting them to continuing retaliation as described above for the way they conducted the investigation and/or decisions which impacted the grievance outcome.

Retaliation reported during a grievance process can be part of the Resolution 33 appeal proceeding to be considered by the NPC or can be a separate process, depending on timing.

Refusal by the chapter to implement a final appeal ruling may be considered retaliation and submitted to the NPC at any later time until the grievance is fully implemented and a member’s status restored if that was the outcome, or following any other final NPC decision. The NPC may also take additional action against chapter leadership as authorized by chapter agreements.

Between the biannual conventions, the National Political Committee (NPC) makes decisions about grievance matters to clarify Resolution 33. These decisions can be reviewed here: NPC Resolution 33 Related Decisions.

  1. “Unwelcome” means in the sense that the member did not solicit or incite it, and in the sense that the member regarded the conduct as undesirable or offensive. See Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d 897, 903 (11th Cir. 1982).
  2. A “hostile environment” is one in which the harassment is sufficiently severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of membership and create an abusive organizing environment. See Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67 (1986). Whether harassment is severe enough to reach this level is determined by whether a reasonable person would be offended by the conduct. See id. at 77. Further, in evaluating the severity and pervasiveness of harassment under this standard, DSA representatives should focus on the perspective of the victim. See Ellison v. Brady, 924 F.2d 872, 878 (9th Cir. 1991). This means critically analyzing, among other things, the different perspectives of those in a protected class. See id.