Background Checks

In mid-August, 2015, the Minnesota StarTribune reported that University of Minnesota (U of M) Athletic Director Norwood Teague had resigned amid accusations of sexual harassment. This story caught our attention at Barada, because it offers a good example of how even easily attainable information can escape detection when screening isn’t sufficiently thorough.

While working as Athletic Director at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Teague had been named in (and later settled) a complaint by former VCU Women’s Basketball Coach Beth Cunningham, a legal action Teague failed to disclose to the U of M or its executive search firm during the hiring process. Per the StarTribune, the search firm’s background check had a section where it asked Teague “to disclose in writing any potential issues of controversy or concern that the University of Minnesota should be aware of.” Teague reportedly signed a statement indicating no such issues existed.

Per the StarTribune report, the U of M had actually learned of the suit in December 2012, before former U of M Senior Athletic Director Regina Sullivan filed the federal complaint accusing Teague of gender discrimination and making a reference to the settlement paid at VCU. The U of M indicated that it had followed up on the VCU complaint, only to learn that the school could not disclose any information. “The VCU attorney gave no indication of any concerns about Teague and, in fact, was highly complementary [sic] of him in the conversation,” the U of M’s statement said.

In other words, the U of M had two opportunities to be apprised of Teague’s alleged misconduct, yet accepted the candidate’s own assurance that he had not been involved in any issues of controversy and concern before hiring him.

Given that the first suit was settled in July 2012, a simple civil search in the county of current employment—either when the U of M first learned of the suit, or at the time of Teague’s hiring—would have uncovered this landmine for the university. Instead, the U of M ended up settling its own suit—with Sullivan, for $175,000, in November 2013.

When organizations miss easy opportunities to uncover detrimental prior actions against candidates, they put their reputations in jeopardy and expose themselves to increased liability in the event of a subsequent incident. For key hires especially, there is never a valid reason for the employer or its search firm to not perform due diligence, themselves.