Resolution of Grievances

General Guidelines

“The quality of life in a college such as Mount Holyoke relies on the conscious choice of students, faculty, and staff members to commit themselves to active and honorable participation in the creation and preservation of the college community” (faculty legislation). To enhance such participation, each person must abide by the principles of respectful and open communication. However, conflicts and misunderstandings may occur. It is important, therefore, to find constructive ways to resolve these various disagreements.

The guidelines and procedures outlined here were established by the College to aid in resolving grievances alleging violation of the Mount Holyoke College Statement on Individual Rights and Community Responsibility, and grievances related to College employment policies, procedures, or regulations as defined in the Staff Handbook, the Handbook of Faculty Legislation and Related Information, and the Student Employment Manual. The procedures are available to those who are either employed by or enrolled at Mount Holyoke College at the time of the incident or occurrence giving rise to the grievance. They are not intended to impair or limit the rights of any individual to seek a remedy available under state or federal law, nor does their availability establish any contractual rights or imply that the handbooks and manuals establish contractual guarantees. The guidelines and procedures may be revised or amended by the College at any time. Although members of the collective bargaining units may use the College resources for purposes of consultation and advice, union members must use the applicable grievance procedures outlined in their contract for formal grievances.

The procedures that follow constitute the usual process for presenting of grievances. Members of the Mount Holyoke community are encouraged to begin all grievance procedures in the informal process. The process becomes formal when a written grievance is filed by a grievant with the affirmative action officer or the senior administrative officer in conjunction with the director of human resources. This may follow after efforts at an informal resolution do not resolve the grievance or if the grievant chooses to bypass the informal process. If the affirmative action officer, the senior administrative officer, or the director of human resources, for reasons of conflict of interest, illness, or prolonged absence, is unable to carry out his or her responsibilities, he or she shall remove himself or herself from the process and a designee shall be appointed by the president of the College.

Often, the most effective avenue for addressing concerns is direct conversation with the person(s) alleged to have caused the offense; reasoned discussion of the issue will often bring about a resolution and new understanding. Individuals who believe themselves to have a problem frequently find it useful to first consult with one of the following people:

  • immediate supervisor
  • department head or chair
  • ombudsperson
  • director of human resources
  • associate dean of the College/dean of students
  • dean of faculty
  • affirmative action officer(s)
  • dean of faculty (AAO for faculty)
  • director of human resources (AAO for staff)

These consultations may aid an individual in determining whether or not to try to resolve the situation on his or her own; may help the individual understand the College’s grievance procedures; or may simply provide a safe and confidential setting in which to discuss the incident(s) that gave rise to the concerns. These consultations are not, however, considered a part of the actual grievance procedure. It is important for individuals who are considering going forward with either the informal or formal grievance procedures to be mindful of all filing deadlines.

Filing Deadlines

The deadlines given in this document for the various stages of grievance procedures are designed to make it possible for an individual to proceed through every stage of the College’s informal and formal procedures and still have ample time to file a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) within the 180-day and six-month periods set by those agencies.

Thus the grievant is strongly encouraged to begin informal procedures within ten working days of the incident or occurrence. A grievant wishing to proceed from informal procedures to formal procedures should file a formal grievance in writing within five working days after the informal process ends. A grievant choosing to bypass the informal procedures should file a formal written grievance within ten working days of the incident.

As a general rule the College considers six months as a reasonable outside limit for bringing a grievance. The College may, for compelling reasons, allow a grievance to be filed beyond the six-month limit.

Confidentiality

The College will attempt to respect an individual’s desire for confidentiality. However, the College may be legally required to take action depending on the nature of the grievance or complaint and may not be able to honor the request for confidentiality. The grievant will be informed if, in the course of satisfying this obligation, the College may be unable to comply with the request for confidentiality.

Retaliation

Retaliation against a grievant for having filed a grievance, or against any individual who participates or cooperates in the grievance proceedings, will not be tolerated and may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Informal Procedures

Step 1

Individuals who believe they are experiencing harassment or discrimination (as outlined in the Mount Holyoke College Statement on Individual Rights and Community Responsibility) are strongly encouraged to seek the counsel of the Ombudsperson within ten working days of the occurrence giving rise to the grievance.

Step 2

The grievant, in consultation with the Ombudsperson, shall decide, normally within five working days, the appropriate steps toward resolving the problem; action shall normally begin within ten working days. These steps may include:

i.  direct communication between the grievant and the respondent
ii.  mediation (see below) agreed upon by grievant and respondent and conducted by the ombudsperson
iii. an impartial and confidential inquiry by the ombudsperson resulting in recommendations for resolving the problem informally referral of the grievance to an appropriate administrative officer for assistance in reaching a resolution

Mediation

Mediation is the process whereby a neutral third party seeks to bring the parties together to resolve a dispute in a way that is mutually acceptable. The ombudsperson provides neutral mediation services. The ombudsperson shall consult with the grievant and shall meet with the individuals separately and/or together to attempt to reach a resolution that is agreeable to all parties to the dispute. No written records, other than the final resolution, shall be retained by the ombudsperson. Original documents shall be returned to their source or to another site as agreed in the resolution. All other notes shall be destroyed. If the dispute is not resolved through mediation, the ombudsperson shall immediately inform all affected parties and discuss with the grievant other alternatives. The mediation process, if unsuccessful, will not prejudice the rights of either party to the dispute. Therefore, should mediation be unsuccessful, neither the reasons for the failure of mediation nor any material or statements made during the process may be utilized in any subsequent proceedings or forums.

Formal Procedures

Step 1

When efforts to resolve a dispute informally fail, the grievant who chooses to file a formal grievance should do so normally no later than five working days after the informal procedure ends. If the grievant has chosen to bypass the informal procedures, the written grievance that initiates the formal procedure should normally be filed within ten working days of the date of the occurrence that gave rise to the grievance.

In a written grievance, the grievant must present clearly and concisely his or her description of the incident(s); identify the respondent(s) to the grievance, and suggest a desired remedy. The grievant must file this written statement with the faculty or staff affirmative action officer who, in turn, will contact the senior administrative officer(s) responsible for the departments or areas in which the grievant and respondent are employed or located. The associate dean of the College/dean of students is contacted about grievances filed against students. Students should refer to the Student Handbook under “Honor Code Council” for the procedures that apply when a student is the respondent.

Step 2

The senior administrative officer responsible for the department or area in which the grievant is employed or located, or his or her designee, will then begin the investigation of the grievance after consulting with either the faculty or staff affirmative action officer. (In cases where the dean of faculty is the senior administrative officer, the investigation will normally be conducted by the associate dean of faculty.) This investigation may include discussions with the grievant, the respondent, the department head or chair, the immediate supervisor, or any other individuals believed to have knowledge pertinent to the grievance. The senior administrative officer will submit a written report to the affirmative action officer setting forth the findings and recommendations, normally within ten working days of the filing of the written complaint.

After considering the findings and recommendations of the senior administrative officer, the affirmative action officer will send a written decision and explanation of the decision to the grievant, the respondent, and the senior administrative officer(s) responsible for the departments or areas in which the grievant and the respondent are employed or located. The written decision will normally be sent no later than ten working days after the senior administrative officer has submitted his or her findings and recommendations.

When the affirmative action officer concludes there is a reasonable basis for believing that the grievance has been substantiated, appropriate action will be taken by the senior administrative officer within ten working days after receiving the affirmative action officer’s written report.

Appropriate action for staff can include any of the following:

a plan to discuss and set goals designed to stop the offending behavior, including possible training or counseling
a written warning or directive placed in the respondent's personnel file, including remedial action
suspension with or without pay
termination of employment
Appropriate action for faculty is governed by the Handbook of Faculty Legislation and Related Information, under Section Seven: “Faculty Rights.”

Since Mount Holyoke College views acts of harassment and discrimination as intolerable, any one of the actions stated above, including termination, may be taken immediately if the infraction warrants such action.

Right of Appeal

If either the grievant or respondent believes the action taken by the affirmative action officer is unjust or inadequate, he or she has the right to appeal the decision in writing to the president of the College. Such an appeal must normally be received in the Office of the President within ten working days after the grievant, the respondent, and the senior administrative officer(s) have received written notification of the action. The president’s decision will normally be rendered within ten working days of the receipt of appeal and will be final and binding within the College. In the absence or unavailability of the president, the dean of faculty will normally review and decide the case. Should the dean of faculty be ineligible by the nature of the case, the chair of the board of trustees will act for the president.

When a faculty member is the respondent, faculty legislation should be consulted for the applicable appeals process.

The College reserves the right to extend any of the above time periods when circumstances so warrant in the judgment of the College.

These procedures apply to faculty grievances related to employment unless there is specific applicable legislation in the Handbook of Faculty Legislation in the section on “Policies and Procedures Governing Academic Appointments, Reappointments, Tenure, Termination, and Dismissal” under Section Seven: “Faculty Rights.”

Informal Procedures

Step 1

Employees are encouraged first to express their concerns to their supervisors, normally within ten working days of the occurrence that gave rise to the grievance. In the instance where the employee is not comfortable with a one-to-one discussion with the immediate supervisor, he or she may only proceed to Step 2 of the informal procedures after first seeking the counsel of the ombudsperson or the director of human resources; faculty may wish to seek counsel with the dean of faculty, and students may wish to seek counsel with the associate dean of the College/dean of students. Such counsel should also take place within ten working days of the occurrence.

Step 2

If the employee’s discussion with the immediate supervisor does not resolve the problem, the employee should discuss the grievance with the head of the office or department within five working days of the meeting with the immediate supervisor. If after seeking counsel of the ombudsperson or director of human resources, the employee bypasses Informal Step 1, the employee should discuss the complaint with the head of the office or department, normally within five working days of his or her discussion with the ombudsperson or director of human resources. The head of the office or department will inform the employee of his or her decision for resolution of the grievance, normally within ten working days after the meeting between the employee and the office or department head. When the head of the office or department is the respondent in the grievance, the grievant shall discuss the grievance with the director of human resources.

Step 3

If the resolution from the head of the office or department is unacceptable to the employee, he or she may request that the director of human resources or the ombudsperson act, in consultation with the senior administrative officer, as fact finder or mediator to aid in resolving the dispute constructively and informally.

Formal Procedures

Step 1

When efforts to resolve a dispute informally fail, the grievant who chooses to file a formal grievance should do so normally not later than five working days after the informal procedure ends. If the grievant has chosen to bypass the informal procedures, the written grievance that initiates the formal procedure should normally be filed within ten working days of the date of the occurrence that gave rise to the grievance.

In a written grievance, the grievant must present clearly and concisely his or her description of the incident(s) or concerns that gave rise to the grievance; identify respondent(s) to the grievance, and suggest a desired remedy. The grievant must file this written statement with the senior administrative officer responsible for the department or areas in which the grievant is located and send a copy to the director of human resources.

Step 2

The senior administrative officer, or his or her designee, in conjunction with the director of human resources, will investigate the grievance. The senior administrative officer, after consulting with the director of human resources, will send a written decision to the grievant, normally within ten working days of the filing of the written grievance.

Right of Appeal

If either the grievant or respondent believes that the action taken by the senior administrative officer is unjust or inadequate, he or she has the right to appeal the decision in writing to the president of the College. Such an appeal must normally be received in the Office of the President within ten working days of receiving written notice of the senior administrative officer’s decision.

The president’s decision will normally be rendered within ten working days of the receipt of appeal and will be final and binding within the College. In the absence or unavailability of the president, the dean of faculty will normally review and decide the case. Should the dean of faculty be ineligible by the nature of the case, the chair of the board of trustees will act for the president.

When a faculty member is the respondent, faculty legislation should be consulted for the applicable appeals process.

The College reserves the right to extend any of the above time periods when circumstances so warrant in the judgment of the College.