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Star Tribune leadership failed in its handling of the Norwood Teague matter

While most of the public’s attention has been focused on the University of Minnesota’s leadership and decision-making in the Norwood Teague affair, little discourse has occurred regarding the Star Tribune’s failed role in the matter. Senior leadership at the Star Tribune failed to protect its own employee, failed to protect other women from future harassment, and failed to adhere to its own espoused corporate values. Such failures are all the result of the Star Tribune’s decisions to not expose and effectively deal with Teague’s reported harassment and assault of its employee in a timely fashion.

Tom Micheletti

As described by the employee, reporter Amelia Rayno, the Star Tribune human resources department presented her with several options for dealing with then-athletic director Teague after she reported inappropriate behavior and an outright assault by Teague while reporting for the newspaper. It appears from her writing that the HR people indicated that the decision as to what to do was Rayno’s alone. Nowhere in any of its coverage has the Star Tribune acknowledged that its leadership had a responsibility to respond to Teague’s behavior.

The paper’s responsibility

An effective CEO and senior leadership team at the newspaper would have wanted to be fully advised of the incident at the time it occurred. The CEO should have personally explained to Rayno that the newspaper itself had a responsibility to address potentially criminal and inappropriate actions against its employees occurring in a work context. The CEO should have communicated a strong preference to immediately report the matter to President Eric Kaler of the university and demand that Teague be disciplined and/or removed. Rayno should have been assured that the newspaper would fully stand beside her and protect her from retaliation if the university did not take appropriate action.

The CEO should have made several important commitments to Rayno at the outset. First, if the university or any of its staff in any way prevented Rayno’s future access to sports personnel so she could not do her job effectively, the Star Tribune would take appropriate action, up to and including cessation of coverage of all male sports until the university righted the situation. Second, the Star Tribune would institute legal or other actions that were appropriate based upon the response of the university and its personnel. Finally, Rayno should have been asked if she had any additional thoughts or suggestions for leadership to consider before going forward. In short, leadership should have earned Rayno’s buy-in and support for immediate action.

Instead, the Star Tribune leadership dropped the ball. In hindsight, Rayno regretted not taking action immediately so as to protect the two university women who subsequently became targets of Teague. It wasn’t her fault. Her company failed her.

Allowed Teague’s sense of entitlement to go unchecked

The Star Tribune missed an opportunity to leverage its powerful position in our community for the good. Instead, it allowed Teague’s sense of entitlement to go unchecked, and he predictably continued to misuse the positional power of the athletic director to intimidate, harass, and assault women.

In August of 2014, the newspaper editorialized its strong support for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and lauded the renewed activism for women’s rights within the state. Hurrah for that. In 2015, the Star Tribune demonstrated by its own actions why passage of the amendment is so desperately needed. Let’s hope that going forward we see better leadership from one of our most important Minnesota institutions.

Tom Micheletti is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Minnesota Law School. Three of his brothers, a cousin, and an uncle have played on Gopher championship hockey and football teams. He has been in numerous CEO and other corporate and nonprofit leadership positions, and currently is the co-president & CEO of Excelsior Energy Inc.

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Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/27/2015 - 06:28 am.

    ONe side

    The commentator in rather thunderous tones tells us what the Star Tribune as a corporation should have done, but he doesn’t discuss why the Star Tribune as a news organization comprised of fallible human beings trying to put out a newspaper, didn’t do it. Both perspectives and others as well need to be considered when dealing with the reality of sexual harassment in the workplace.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 08/28/2015 - 01:08 pm.

      And how would he know

      why they didn’t do it. The commentator can use his knowledge of the law and experience as a CEO of several companies to advise on what should have been done, but saying why they didn’t do it would be speculation, guess work and most likely wrong.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/27/2015 - 08:21 am.

    What I Have Not Heard

    and would be very curious to discover,…

    is whether Norwood Teague demonstrated harassing behavior and attitudes on a day-to-day basis as part of his normal personality,…

    or whether he’s one of the people who,…

    due to traumatic experiences at some earlier time in his life,…

    unconsciously use abuse of alcohol as a means to shift into a very DIFFERENT personality,…

    one which that earlier, very physically or emotionally painful trauma caused his psyche to lock up in internal exile,…

    (until sufficient quantities of alcohol throw the door open on those internal cells),…

    and whatever (and WHOever) Mr. Teague was at the time of his earlier trauma is set free,…

    exhibiting only the reasoning skills, knowledge, and judgment he possessed at the age when the trauma occurred,…

    while his normal, adult personality is locked away until he sobers up.

    There are many, many people whose urges to abuse chemicals arise from their personality pieces,…

    which have been relegated into internal exile,…

    noisily rattling the doors on their cages demanding to be set free.

    Such people can be identified by the very notable personality shifts they exhibit while “under the influence.”

    If Mr. Teague has been using chemicals in this way,…

    it’s highly likely that no one EVER knew,…

    or even suspected,…

    or could even have conceived of who he became,…

    when he had been drinking and managed to arrange for himself to be alone with an attractive woman,…

    nor that Mr. Teague could actually explain to himself what happened under those circumstances,…

    though such people are often VERY good at blaming others or making up bogus reasons to seek to explain their own, out of control behavior,…

    when they actually have NO idea why they do what they do under the influence of their chemical of choice,…

    are often genuinely sorry for it,…

    and try very hard (and, too often, unsuccessfully) never to do it again.

    With appropriate healing work, those internally exiled pieces can be reintegrated into the person’s normal personality,…

    such healing also generally reducing the individual’s use of chemicals to a bad habit to be dealt with,…

    rather than an unconscious psychological compulsion.

    I hope the women Mr. Teague harassed will not develop PTSD as the result of his behavior toward them,…

    PTSD being another form of the same psychological mechanisms at work.

  3. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 08/27/2015 - 09:01 am.

    It is way simpler than that, Greg

    Some alcoholics are jerks, some alcoholics are nice people. Removing the alcohol doesn’t necessarily change their personality. For now the wolf has been defanged but there is nothing that says he won’t continue to denigrate, dismiss, abuse and mistreat women if he ever again attains a position of power. His problems with women weren’t just in his personal life and behavior; he had issues with workplace decisions as well, as attested to by the two lawsuits we know of. I doubt he was drunk at the time of those decisions.

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/28/2015 - 08:34 am.

      I Can’t Blame Those Who Must Deal with “Jerks”

      on a day-to-day basis for simply deciding to dismiss them as jerks,…

      and deciding to stay away from them,…

      or kick them out of whatever organizations or jobs they might be a part of,…

      but from the perspective of a retired pastor,…

      it was my job to minister to such “jerks,”….

      to help them discover why they couldn’t seem to figure out how to STOP being “jerks,” under certain circumstances,….

      which, of course, was only possible once they had gotten so sick of messing up their own lives,…

      and the lives of the people around them,…

      often people they genuinely loved,…

      that they were willing to allow me to help them.

      Over my years as a pastor, I never met a “jerk” who wouldn’t have give a great deal to STOP being a jerk,…

      if they could only have figured out how to do it.

  4. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/27/2015 - 09:17 am.

    Sides

    While I agree that there are many sides to any story, I disagree that all sides bear equal weight, and there is little excuse for doing as little as the Strib did. If Ms. Rayno felt uncomfortable enough to report the incidents to HR, it’s likely that the situation was beyond simply putting on her big girl pants, which is essentially what Strib’s HR told her to do. The problem with asking for a victim to come up with a solution, especially when it comes to sexual harassment, is that there’s a level of fear and shame that the victim experiences. The fear is justified, but the shame is not. And when you ask a victim what THEY believe should be done, it increases the fear and shame and often leads to the response “I don’t know.” Further, when asked what should be done (even if the suggestion isn’t that they need to do something), it shifts the burden of justice from the person with power to do something about it (HR or the company) to the victim, who obviously already feels somewhat powerless. It makes the crime THEIR responsibility. The automatic thought is “wait? *I’m* the one who has to fix this? I didn’t do anything. If you’re not prepared to make things right without me telling you what to do, I’m not sure you’re willing to do anything at all. And what happens when the perpetrator finds out I ‘tattled’?”

    Teague took advantage of his position of power over various womens’ careers to get away with behavior that was unacceptable. I expect that this was normal behavior for him, but the alcohol got him in trouble because he didn’t have the judgement to realize that he picked on two women whose positions weren’t subject to his power. And they spoke out. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times women get harassed by men who have no power over their careers and they never speak out, so this is not trivial.

    Mr. Micheletti is right. Ms. Rayno did what she should have done by going to HR to report the harassment. Either the Strib HR dropped the ball, or the Strib, in general did. Someone at the Strib likely put business before people in this situation.

  5. Submitted by Richard Callahan on 08/27/2015 - 10:30 am.

    Had Teague not been an influential sports figure

    the Strib may have done more. After all, the Strip is highly biased in its love and deference to professional and university sports in Minnesota.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 08/27/2015 - 11:59 am.

      Yes, it’s about the money.

      The Strib directly and indirectly relies on these sports for readership and ad revenue – not to mention real estate sales !!

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/27/2015 - 10:53 am.

    The real world

    “While I agree that there are many sides to any story, I disagree that all sides bear equal weight, and there is little excuse for doing as little as the Strib did.”

    Yes, Mr. Micheletti makes his point with the omniscient certainty of a litigator making a final argument to a jury. What I suggested is that in this real life of ours, other factors come into play. What weight they should be and are given is determined in every case. Let’s recall Ms. Rayno’s original article and how she saw and resolved the matter at the time:

    “It was my decision to make and I chose what I believed was self-preservation. I didn’t want my career interrupted because of a powerful man’s misdeeds. Making a formal complaint could have resulted in me losing access at the university. It could have forced me to take another beat, perhaps out of sports; to change my career path in a way I never planned.”

    There is a lot there, a lot worthy of comment and discussion, which I won’t discuss right now. But what I would point out is how different the actual concerns she faced are from Mr. Micheletti’s after the fact approach to the problem.

    • Submitted by David Wintheiser on 08/27/2015 - 01:20 pm.

      That is the actual point

      The point of Mr. Micheletti’s argument is that, had the Star-Tribune done its job in this case, Ms. Rayno would not have had to be concerned with the things she was concerned with — instead of asking Ms. Rayno what ‘she wanted done’, which leaves the door open for Strib management to play Ms. Rayno against the athletic department to maintain their working relationship (“We don’t want to do this, but the reporter is insisting…”), it should have been made clear that the Strib wasn’t going to effectively punish their reporter from doing what she was supposed to be doing, reporting harassing behavior from an authority figure.

      It’s possible to argue that this wouldn’t have served much protection for Mr. Teague’s future victims — the University would most likely not have made any meetings or reprimands of Mr. Teague public, and Mr. Teague’s own alcohol-supported lack of judgment would have gotten him back in hot water with someone eventually — but at the very least, Ms. Rayno would have been protected from the stress and uncertainty that she did experience, for simply being the target of behavior that wasn’t her fault. It is in exactly this sense that the Star-Tribune management failed Ms. Rayno.

      In the end, the underlying problem won’t be solved until people with privilege — especially men with privilege involved in sports (see Brett Favre, Ben Rothlisburger, Christian Peter, Mark Chmura, Kobe Bryant, etc., etc., ad nauseum) — learn that authority has limits, and that leadership involves understanding and respecting those limits.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/27/2015 - 01:34 pm.

        I disagree, but I also won’t challenge Ms. Rayno’s perception of her problem. In various forms, it’s a problem journalists, particularly beat journalists face every day. It isn’t issue of punishing the reporter, it’s a question of whether who reports this kind of story will still have access to the people she needs to do her job.

  7. Submitted by Jim Million on 08/27/2015 - 11:08 am.

    Thursday Morning QB

    MinnPost continues its focus on STrib actions with respect to journalistic responsibility. Readers should know that significant MinnPost management comes from that paper just prior to the bankruptcy. That is fact, not finger pointing. It is therefore fair to question MinnPost motives in pursuing the STrib as its story, and not the UofM or Norwood Teague, per se.

    We must all make our decisions on credibility of sources in this broader story. And, we should consider the real possibility that STrib had only an employee/HR source as foundation for breaking a Teague story when some believe they should have done so. Perhaps; however, we must acknowledge their first duty was to protect the legal position/rights of their employee. Had they known other credible victims as sources, they could have broken the story earlier on the basis of that third-party relationship in typical news sourcing.

    Did they??

    Come on, folks, the story is Norwood Teague/UofM, not StarTribune. Currently the question should involve pre-hire vetting of Teague, and the recent disclosures that their investigative firm was engaged only after the review panel had interviewed five candidates, clearly settling on Teague, then requesting the background check of only Teague. It appears they were simply looking for confirmation, not full investigation. It’s pretty hard to look for bad stuff on a guy you already like the most.

    Had they made his hiring contingent on continuing investigation, they might have received an updated report soon after the contract signing, an update as to the recently public disclosure of his prior actions. Timing seems to be everything, indeed.

    Under that clause, Teague could have been legally dismissed without recourse; but, then the U would have looked a bit more incompetent than they do now that Teague is gone.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/27/2015 - 12:42 pm.

      This is an opinion piece

      From a non-MinnPost contributor. I’m not sure that it necessarily counts as MinnPost’s supposed pursuit of the Strib as a story. And, sure, it’s a secondary story to the main U of M story. But we shouldn’t ignore that the story was complex, and the result is that at least a handful of women were subjected to harassment as a result of several organizations not doing the right thing when the issue came up.

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/27/2015 - 01:39 pm.

      Hiring

      Well, I have a lot to say about the shenanigans that are currently going with respect to the hiring of the new AD, but that’s a matter for another post and another thread.

      I don’t know anything about Teague, but I do know something about things like alcoholism and addiction and sexual exploitation in the workplace. In this litigious environment, they are not always easy to spot. And sometime not being fully candid on these issues to an employment agency is one of the easier ways to unload a problem employee.

  8. Submitted by Rodgers Adams on 08/27/2015 - 03:57 pm.

    Uninformed criticism

    The possibility that the Star Tribune mishandled the reporter’s report to HR is real, but Mr. Micheletti does not seem to have recognized special complexities at the Star Tribune as a journalism business. For example, the publisher is not simply another CEO in command of all that goes on in the organization. Any good publisher grants the newsroom a degree of independence from corporate direction and even corporate interests. Threatening to take your business elsewhere may be an option for most businesses, but no responsible publisher would order a radical change in coverage (such as withholding covering of male athletics at the city’s major university) as punishment or leverage, and any respectable newsroom would.rise up in rebellion at such an order from “the CEO.” Also, the idea that a reporter’s superiors could protect a reporter’s job by ordering sources to give that reporter polite access is detached from the real world. Whether the HR department erred in not immediately sending the reporter back to her editor is a legitimate question, as is what the editor should have done with the information. But newsgathering is a complex process full of ethical issues constantly being balanced within the newsroom. The focus of the inquiry should be the newsroom, not the “CEO.”

    • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 08/27/2015 - 05:47 pm.

      I wonder to what extent the newspaper — after hearing Rayno’s story — went out and looked for other possible victims or misconduct. It doesn’t seem like too much went into looking into Teague because it was a few days after he was fired that the story about the VCU discrimination lawsuit popped up.

  9. Submitted by Allan Wilson on 08/27/2015 - 11:31 pm.

    Norwood and the Strib

    Excellent piece. The Star Tribune has been for years a hub of sports in this town, and at times (the Lakers, Gopher athletics, the Twins) has exorcised a very curious roll in team affairs. The core of boosters around University sports and the Strib forms an unhealthy alliance when a major scandal erupts. Nothing is an unsightly as when a major Corporate entity like the StarTribune appears to put its stated policies on the back burner in order to avoid reporting a scandal. This is the very inverse of the journalistic standards, and honors, the newspaper supposedly is trying to achieve.

  10. Submitted by ray Matthews on 08/28/2015 - 06:47 am.

    Yes, the strib took the cowardly route on this issue, very disappointing. This from an institution that is expected to stand up for the rights of individuals. They acted in their own interest by protecting a valuable source and denigrating a female employee.

    What if Teague went on to commit even worse crimes like rape or murder? The Strib could have stopped it but stood silent, how shameful.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 08/28/2015 - 01:14 pm.

      Exactly the point…

      “What if Teague went on to commit even worse crimes like rape or murder?”

      He did go on to harass two other women. That could have been avoided. All too often, when given a choice between doing the right thing and keeping quiet, management types choose to keep quiet and people suffer because of it.

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