CBJ Report: Protecting your business in the age of #MeToo

CBJ Report

Protecting your business in the age of #MeToo

The movement that began last year with a string of allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is still gathering steam, and Corridor insurance experts say businesses both large and small should prepare themselves accordingly.

#MeToo, which coalesced on social media in late 2017, has burst back onto the scene in a big way in recent days, with the controversial nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the movement's main claim to fame is dragging the issue of workplace sexual harassment and assault out of the shadows and into the spotlight, toppling once untouchable figures from CBS chief executive Les Moonves to "Today" host Matt Lauer.

Closer to home, Gov. Kim Reynolds in March fired Iowa Finance Authority Director David Jamison for repeated sexual misconduct in the office, while the University of Iowa terminated Tippie College of Business lecturer Jeffrey Nock for harassing behavior just last month.

A flood of new claim activity hasn't hit area insurers yet, but some are bracing for the movement to descend from high-profile office suites into the hallways of American businesses as cultural winds shift and victims get the message it's safe to speak up - and potentially file suit.

"If companies are not paying attention to employment-related practices, they should, regardless if they have one or 100 employees," said Spencer Stephens, an agent with Sheets Forrest Draper Insurance of Marion. The firm specializes in business insurance, including Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI), which helps protect employers from sexual harassment lawsuits as well as claims of discrimination, wrongful termination, breach of contract and other matters.

"Since coverage typically applies for alleged harassment," Mr. Stephens added, "employers that have an employee handbook, required posters on display and training on harassment could still face thousands of dollars in out of pocket expenses to respond to allegations."

EPLI, which can be purchased as part of a business policy or as standalone coverage, generally covers the cost of defending a lawsuit in court, as well as judgments or settlements up to the chosen limit. Most policies will also extend coverage to claims brought by third parties, such as clients or customers. EPLI policies usually do not pay punitive damages or civil or criminal fines, however, and will almost certainly exclude claims involving employees' intentional conduct or bodily injury, including rape or assault.

Involta announces BluPrairie acquisition

Cedar Rapids-based Involta today announced the acquisition of BluPrairie, LLC, the company's second public cloud business acquisition in less than a year.

"By combining our portfolio of services, we are able to expand our clients' value proposition," Bruce Lehrman, founder and CEO of Involta, said in a release. "We can partner with our clients to consider people, process and technology to meet their business needs. Our collective goal is to enable clients to move away from IT urgent care to IT wellness and be proactive versus reactive."

BluPrairie, based in Coralville, is an independent cloud strategy and design firm aimed at helping organizations leverage new technology to enable business outcomes. It offers a full suite of cloud services, from ideation and strategic planning to enterprise and solution architecture, as well as consulting services for business process improvement and organizational change management.

Involta, a national IT provider and consulting firm, said the acquisition would help it continue to expand its solutions offerings. The company has launched new company divisions centered around security, public cloud technology and hybrid cloud services. It recently hired a new chief information security officer to help it expand its security portfolio and empower clients with advanced security tool sets. In addition, the launch of Involta Hybrid Cloud services gives companies the ability to manage all of their public and private cloud infrastructure in one convenient place and respond rapidly to organizational changes.

"This is a very exciting event for both companies, for our employees, and for our clients," Michelle Bates, founder and CEO of BluPrairie, said in a release. "The combination of BluPrairie's public cloud expertise with Involta's managed service offering enables us both to provide a new and broader set of services. Our new service offering of public cloud+private cloud+managed services creates hybrid cloud services at the most competitive prices and even faster response times to service and support needs - 24/7/365."

Ms. Bates will assume the role of chief innovation officer at Involta, responsible for driving the future vision of Involta's cloud products and services.

Residential development poised for takeoff in Mount Vernon

The city of Mount Vernon, which has had a dearth of single-family development lots in recent years, could soon begin to see new residential growth following the opening of Skogman Homes' first residential subdivision in the city.

Skogman's 50-acre Spring Meadow Heights subdivision will have a mix of quarter-acre lots and larger lots to accommodate both move-up and entry-level homes, Skogman Homes President Kyle Skogman said. At least four models are being constructed in the initial 31-lot phase, which has access from Sixth Street and Seventh Street near Elliot Park, located off Highway 1 on the northeast side of town.

The new subdivision is being promoted with some billboard advertising based around a small-town living theme.

"It's probably been four or five years since they really had any inventory of lots for people to build on [in Mount Vernon]," Mr. Skogman said, explaining the promotional effort.

City Administrator Chris Nosbisch agrees with Mr. Skogman's assessment that pent-up demand exists for building lots in Mount Vernon, a Linn County commuter town known best for Cornell College and its well-maintained historic district and Main Street. He said paving work is expected to begin soon on road extensions that will add a new phase to the existing Stonebrook subsidivision on the southwest side of Mount Vernon, as well.

Stonebrook Phase II is expected to sell lots primarily for custom homes, Mr. Nosbisch said. About 250 lots will be available for housing in Mount Vernon when Stonebrook Phase II and Spring Meadow Heights are fully developed, he added.

Read this story and more in Monday's edition of the Corridor Business Journal.

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