Decisions by DSA’s National Political Committee (NPC) Which Impact the Grievance Process
The NPC has passed the following motions, at the request of DSA’s National Harassment Grievance Officer Paula Brantner, as part of the ongoing implementation of Resolution 33 within the organization. The NHGO will continue to work closely with the NPC to identify gaps/unaddressed concerns under Resolution 33 that must be resolved to adjudicate a particular grievance and/or appeal, and will make these approved motions available to DSA members, HGOs and chapter leaders in trainings, via listening sessions and email communications, and via the Harassment resource pages on the DSA website to inform and train members on best practices in implementing Resolution 33.
Last update: November 16, 2020 (at the end of this document)
Proposed Appeals process under Resolution 33: NPC Role
(passed by the NPC on April 13, 2019 at its quarterly meeting)
(presented by Paula Brantner, NHGO)
After months of both assisting chapters in handling grievances and receiving requests for appeals of those outcomes, [the NHGO now recommends] to the NPC a process for handling appeals that both correlates with what is contemplated by Resolution 33 and is what [the NHGO believes] to be a fair and manageable process for those involved. [Note: Paula Brantner, the NHGO, is the “I” in subsequent paragraphs, as this was adopted from a proposal originally addressed to the NPC. Some language has been changed to reflect that this proposal was adopted and the process is now being shared publicly. NHGO note added 6/26/19)]
While I am undoubtedly influenced by what the legal system calls an appeal, and recognize how Resolution 33’s language borrows from the legal system, I start with the recognition that a judicial system providing for a quasi-legal appeal mechanism is not what DSA has nor what it needs to administer this process. I also recognize that not all of Resolution 33’s language pertaining to grievances is also specifically applied to appeals.
However, wherever possible, I believe that language applying to one part of the process should also apply to all parts of the process, unless to do so defies logic or creates an unnecessarily cumbersome process. I am therefore heavily influenced by Resolution 33’s aspiration of having grievances processed in a “timely, efficient, accurate, and discreet adjudication.” I believe that once this process is approved, what is recommended will specifically permit adjudication with those qualities.
I will continue to encourage HGOs to work closely with me to process grievances in a fashion that follows the protocol and thus minimizes grounds for appeal. As part of the nine Regional Conferences, we have already trained dozens of HGOs and chapter leaders, providing them with a framework to assess the validity of and process grievances and otherwise work to minimize conflict in their chapter. I’ve also had dozens of listening sessions with HGOs to both establish relationships and gain insight on Resolution 33 implementation, and also when specifically requested to handle issues arriving in individual grievances. This, along with my background and substantive knowledge, is being used to share best practices and create workable procedures to accompany Resolution 33.
I therefore recommend the following process [which was adopted by the NPC on April 13, 2019 and has subsequently been followed. NHGO note added 6/25/19]:
When I am contacted about filing a grievance, I will first ensure that it has already been handled by the relevant chapter if the chapter has over 100 members (although some smaller chapters and new chapters are voluntarily adding Resolution 33 language even though not required by the policy itself). Some wish to bypass their chapter due to the nature of the conflict, but I have and will continue to work to ensure chapter HGOs are the first level of reporting. It is critical that we build a culture of empowerment and capacity for this work in chapters if it is to be sustainable. Chapter HGOs can interview witnesses, understand relevant history and assess credibility better than I can to make a recommendation, and chapter steering committees can play a key role in adjudicating HGO recommendations and managing the culture and climate within their chapter if they are processing grievances.
I will then invite the member seeking to appeal to fill out the appeal form:
DSA Resolution 33 Appeal Form [Note: link removed but shared upon request by an appealing party if appropriate. NHGO note added 6/26/19]
This allows me to assess whether the grievance meets Resolution 33 requirements, or is an attempt to appeal a non-Resolution 33 expulsion or discipline under the chapter’s bylaws. Once I’ve received this form and supporting evidence, I or a member of my team will review what has been submitted to determine if there is any missing information needed. If there is not a written ruling from the chapter steering committee, we will make contact with the chapter HGOs and/or leadership to obtain information from them about the adjudication process below and any additional relevant information as to how and why the grievance was decided a particular way.
Then we will generate a summary report, which I typically anticipate will be 2-3 pages, with a recommendation for adjudication by the NPC. [Note: they are more extensive than contemplated, and tend to be 5-10 pages long at present. NHGO note added 6/26/19)]
When matters are adjudicated by the NPC, of course we all want to protect the integrity of the process to make final resolutions “timely, efficient, accurate, and discreet.” We also want to prevent some of the weaponization of the process we have seen at the chapter level where some members attempt to use the grievance process to rid their chapter of their enemies: people with whom they disagree politically and/or with whom they have been engaged in conflict.
The reports will therefore not identify either the individuals involved or their chapter. While NPC members may have independent knowledge of the behavior and/or conflict at the heart of an individual grievance appeal, you will be asked to verify that you will
- Review the reports and recommendations fairly and impartially, as you would as a member of a jury;
- Keep the process, any facts you learn, and any evidence you review confidential, not discussing them with individuals who are not NPC members. (Especially sensitive evidence will either be summarized in the report and only available upon request, or provided in physical rather than electronic form to minimize the potential for dissemination).
- Review the reports and deliberate only in a confidential executive session, with the outcome to be shared only with the parties.
- Respect the process and outcome, owning the final adjudication as a product of the NPC, even if you do not personally agree or are part of the minority.
- Recuse yourself if you feel you may know any of the parties involved [or cannot otherwise be fair and impartial.] [Note: the bracketed language was added later to conform with the language to which the reviewing NPC members are asked to verify. NHGO note added 6/26/19)]
Because the NPC only meets quarterly, I recommend that the Steering Committee of the NPC be empowered to handle grievances and vote on their outcome. If there is a significant division or difficulty reaching a resolution, it would be possible to refer the matter to the entire NPC, but in most cases, that would further delay the adjudication for weeks or months. [Note: all grievances are now being heard by the Steering Committee, under the authority delegated to them by the full NPC when this proposal was adopted by the full NPC. (NHGO note added 6/26/19)]
While I will make what I consider to be sound recommendations backed by the evidence that exists, Resolution 33 provides that “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).” While this section refers to grievances and not appeals, given that there is a right of appeal, I am assuming that having the NPC make the ultimate disposition after reviewing my recommendation is similarly the appropriate method of disposition. Therefore, I will be communicating to all parties that while I will make recommendations, the decision of the NPC is the final one that will bind the parties, which will allow me to do my work without undue interference or retaliation.
Once a resolution has been reached, I will then communicate with the parties about the outcome, protecting [the NPC] [NHGO note added 6/26/19] from further interference or retaliation from those unhappy with the results. The member appealing will be informed about their DSA membership status and any other limitations, such as recommendations about training, duration of suspension, or any conditions placed upon reinstatement. The chapter steering committee will be informed if the member has taken at-large member status or has been expelled from National DSA membership, and any other relevant conditions to the member’s future DSA involvement. (As I have mentioned before, there will most likely be a need to develop criteria for a “do not fly” list so that a member does not move to a different chapter or potentially cause harm in other DSA spaces.) I will also coordinate with the DSA National staff the member’s post-appeal membership status, so that, for example, monthly dues deductions can be halted if necessary.
Once this process has been agreed to, I will begin to submit appeals to the NPC in accordance with what is decided, so that by late April or early May 2019, we will start to process appeals and catch up with a number of long-standing appeals that have been awaiting this process. [Note: the current pace has been two for each NPC Steering Committee meeting, which happens biweekly. Each appeal is allocated up to 30 minutes on the meeting agenda. NHGO note added 6/26/19]
Censure/Removal from Leadership/Expulsion for Non-Compliance with Resolution 33 Appeal Ruling
(Passed by the NPC on May 13, 2019, in conjunction with the Steering Committee’s consideration of Grievance Appeal 0002-2019 on May 13, 2019.)
(Proposed by Paula Brantner, NHGO)
Can we subject chapter leaders (HGOs/Steering or Executive Committee members) to censure, removal from their positions, or expulsion from DSA for noncompliance and/or public statements against the appeal ruling? Is there a by-laws provision that would apply to this situation beyond initiating another Resolution 33 appeal and considering it retaliation?
[Sentence relevant to particular grievance removed. NHGO note 6/26/19] We need the ability to remove chapter leaders who do not comply with grievance appeal rulings and/or obstruct or weaponize the process. It could completely undermine Resolution 33 if chapter leaders can engage in misconduct as part of the Resolution 33 process without any consequences, or just choose to disregard any outcome they do not like.
Both Resolution 33’s retaliation provision and the following provision in the by-laws get at this problem, but not directly.
Resolution 33 2.e. 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 includes 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.
National Bylaws, Article I. Membership, Section 3: Members can be expelled if they are found to be in substantial disagreement with the principles or policies of the organization or if they consistently engage in undemocratic, disruptive behavior or if they are under the discipline of any self-defined democratic-centralist organization. Members facing expulsion must receive written notice of charges against them and must be given the opportunity to be heard before the NPC or a subcommittee thereof, appointed for the purpose of considering expulsion.
Recently, a process to expel members under this section has been developed to address a number of expulsions that were made on non-Resolution 33 grounds. National Expulsion Appeals Process
The NPC adopts the following discipline/censure process when misconduct by HGOs or chapter leaders (the governing body) is uncovered in the appeal, or when there is a positive finding that procedural errors, misconduct, or conflicts of interest so severely affected the outcome of the grievance process that the actions are potentially either “in substantial disagreement with the principles or policies of the organization” or a form of consistently engaging in “undemocratic, disruptive behavior.”
- The NHGO will indicate a member or members whose behavior has potentially violated Resolution 33 and/or Article 1, Section 3 in [the] appeal report and recommendation.
- If the NPC/subset considering the appeal agrees that the member’s behavior warrants further consideration, the member(s) will be given notice that their expulsion is under consideration due to a potential violation of Resolution 33 and Article 1, Section 3, and will be given written notice of the charges and information about the new process governing potential expulsions.
- This process, not the Resolution 33 process, will determine the membership status of anyone acting in a position of power/authority in the Resolution 33 grievance process who appears to be weaponizing the process, engaged in misconduct such as confidentiality breaches or conflicts of interests, and/or refusing to follow the conditions imposed by an appeal ruling.
Chapter Statements re: Member Status prior to Appeal
(Passed by the NPC Steering Committee on June 24, 2019, in conjunction with the Steering Committee’s consideration of Grievance Appeal 0004-2019 on June 24, 2019.)
(Proposed by Paula Brantner, NHGO)
It has been challenging to strike a proper balance between member safety and the need to warn members about the conduct of a particular individual, and the harm that can result when the chapter sends a message about the grievance outcome prior to the appeal having been heard.
The NPC adopts a policy permitting the NHGO to determine whether in a particular situation, a statement by the chapter leadership body issued to chapter members prior to appeal is appropriate. The NHGO will take into account the nature of the grievance and the specific facts as both alleged and able to be verified in the course of the investigation, as well as the history of the steering committee in relation to a particular member.
This will enable the NHGO to work with the HGOs and chapter leadership to ensure the statement is narrowly tailored to the specific findings, not motivated by personal animosity and bias, and takes into account the threat of harm posed by the member’s behavior. Conversely, if a statement would further inflame the situation, overstate the threat of harm, or itself cause harm by misleading the membership about the allegations or findings, the NHGO can seek to prevent that harm from occurring, as it is difficult to correct after the fact.
Chapters who disregard the NHGO’s recommendations will have that noted in the appeal, as it may constitute a procedural error, misconduct and/or conflict of interest affecting the fairness of the outcome, one of the grounds for a Resolution 33 appeal. Depending on the nature of the statement and other actions of the leadership body during the course of the grievance, it may also warrant a referral to the National Expulsion Appeals Process if it rises to the level of significant interference with the grievance process.
Clarification that Resolution 33 process can cover Non-Resolution 33 conduct/Chapter Code of Conduct violations
(Passed by the NPC Steering Committee on June 24, 2019, in conjunction with the Steering Committee’s consideration of Grievance Appeal 00072019 on June 24, 2019.)
(Proposed by Paula Brantner, NHGO)
Some of the appeals under consideration have involved a mixture of conduct that is explicitly prohibited by Resolution 33, and other behavior that is not. Some of the conduct that is not covered by Resolution 33 specifically is still problematic, and if the chapter has a code of conduct, is alleged to have violated the chapter code of conduct in addition to Resolution 33.
Because of the lack of an appeals process within Resolution 33, the lack of a National Code of Conduct and the need for a non-Resolution 33 process to deal with expulsions under chapter codes of conduct and/or non-Resolution 33 grounds, we have spent considerable time trying to figure out the appropriate processes to govern particular conflicts, in an effort to ensure that a fair and objective process is followed consistently, and that there are checks and balances between a chapter’s actions and the NHGO/NPC’s actions.
For Resolution 33, the appropriate process is as follows:
Member grievance filed>HGO investigation and recommendation>Chapter Leadership grievance determination>Appeal of Chapter Action>NHGO report and recommendation>NPC appeal determination.
When some Resolution 33-prohibited conduct is alleged, and that process is followed, the process we have developed permits the NHGO and NPC to make a determination, even if some of the conduct would not violate Resolution 33 in a different context. Some of the non-Resolution 33 expulsions, whether part of the Chapter Code of Conduct only or for behavior that is not of a Resolution 33 nature (usually because it does not target a particular protected class/individual characteristic), do not follow that process. Or [it may not be] appropriate for it to be handled by the NHGO since the conduct is not harassment-related. [Bracketed language added for improved clarity. NHGO note added 6/26/19]
The NPC adopts this policy to clarify that if there’s a mix of conduct, that it can still go through the Resolution 33 process, rather than being bifurcated between the two. It doesn’t make sense to have two separate processes, unless there is no Resolution 33-prohibited conduct present at all, [removing the authority for the NHGO to act to enforce Resolution 33] [Bracketed language added for improved clarity. NHGO note added 6/26/19]
If there’s a mix of conduct and the appeal comes to the NHGO, then the NHGO can also determine whether it was investigated and decided under Resolution 33 standards at the chapter level. If not, then the NHGO can refer the appeal to the other non-Resolution 33 process, the National Expulsion & Appeals Procedure. That will enable that process to use its differing standards for appeal and resolution without being encumbered by the inapplicable Resolution 33 process.
Cooperation with Outside Entities Which Request Information/Evidence from DSA Grievance Processes
(Passed by the NPC on December 20, 2019, in conjunction with a request for technical assistance by a chapter HGO.)(Proposed by Paula Brantner, NHGO)
While Resolution 33, DSA’s anti-harassment policy, is not a legal process and will not necessarily follow the same processes that would be followed in court and/or an administrative agency, due to the nature of grievances received, DSA may be asked to cooperate/share information/provide evidence that is relevant to a criminal or civil proceeding.
For example, a sexual assault survivor may have reported the assault to law enforcement and be simultaneously pursuing a criminal action. Or actions that impact a party’s workplace may be part of a civil suit.
There are several DSA interests relevant to these situations. It is DSA’s policy to support survivors. It is part of Resolution 33 that the process is confidential. DSA has concerns about law enforcement or civil litigation intrusion in the grievance process.
To balance these competing interests, DSA will require that law enforcement or parties in a civil or criminal action issue valid and enforceable subpoenas before requested information will be turned over by HGOs or chapter leaders to outside entities. A chapter who has received a subpoena or an informal request for information or evidence from a grievance matter should contact the NHGO immediately for navigating this situation.
NHGO Recommendation to Streamline DSA Expulsions
(Passed via Loomio vote on 11/16/2020.)
(Proposed by Paula Brantner, NGHO)
The NHGO recommends that the NPC streamline DSA’s two separate expulsions systems by merging the Non-Resolution 33 Expulsions Process with the process for expulsions laid out in Resolution 33. In doing so, the NPC would create one expulsion system following the procedures elaborated in Resolution 33.
[For further information about the Appeals process, please refer to beginning of this document.]