Readercon Updates

The chair of Readercon 23, Crystal Huff, has responded to the controversy on her Livejournal:

I value safe spaces, and I am confident that this is a priority for Readercon people, as well. Many Readercon staffers are the same people who’ve been deeply involved supporters of the Backup Project. We recognize that the board’s decision with regard to Ms. Valentine’s complaint of harassment was made in haste, as was the original policy with regard to harassment at Readercon. In order to not compound errors further, we as the Readercon convention committee will be reexamining both with lots of thought and care.

She also reports, “Most of the current board members have resigned or announced their intention to resign.”

Readercon’s board of directors made the decision to ban Rene Walling for two years rather than following its announced policy of a permanent ban.

Readercon’s governing structure is a con committee of about 30 people which elects five of its members to be the board of directors. Traditionally, neither the con chair nor program chair are put on the board. Items requiring ratification by the board include GoH selection.

The Readercon harassment controversy also has been reported by Nonprofitquarterly in “Sci-fi Convention, Penn State Serve as Liability Reminders,” a post filled with sobering observations about real-world consequences:

However, if Readercon is an all-volunteer group (we haven’t located the organization on Guidestar), one wonders if the organization’s policy is a defense if one of the aggrieved con participants were to take some sort of legal action. Does Readercon have officers’ liability insurance to cover the organization against legal action? Would reference to the policy and the Readercon board’s creation of the policy in 2008 (in response to an earlier reported incident) and its actions against Walling after this year’s allegations help defend the organization against the debilitating cost of legal action?

[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh for the link.]

37 thoughts on “Readercon Updates

  1. Has anyone ever actually sued a science fiction convention at all, much less sued one out of existence?

  2. The end of Disclaves came about through some aspects of fault, due to a misadventure. *cough cough*.

    But I don’t recall any oner specific lawsuit targeting a convention, or targeting a (Named) convention.

  3. I think I’ve heard the Disclave story. That was more a hotel or hotels deciding they wouldn’t host the convention anymore, right? I guess I’m more curious about whether or not conventions have ever ended because of fans taking some sort of action (beyond just gradually not showing up any more, I mean). I rush to say, by the way, that with regards to this particular situation I hope that what comes out of it is a renewed, reinvigorated, and safer Readercon.

  4. “Has anyone ever actually sued a science fiction convention at all, much less sued one out of existence?”

    Yes. Don’t know about the second.

  5. @Christopher: I’ve never heard of a science fiction convention being sued out of existence. Before you trivialize the possibility, I think you should consider the likely reason there have been so few lawsuits among fans is that for many years none of them could afford the legal fees necessary to pursue them. (I know for certain that’s a factor limiting suits in my professional field, federal taxation.) Nowadays lots of fans have real jobs, and the devastating publicity accompanying a harassment situation is out there for anyone to see, including current and prospective employers. A person — even one who did exactly was he’s been accused of doing — might choose to sue for that reason, not merely to avoid being barred from a con.

  6. Oh, I’m not trying to trivialize the situation (though I can see that my original question could be read as if it was asked snarkily, for which I apologize). I’m honestly curious, I guess from both a fannish history point of view and a “current events” point of view.

  7. For some datails Google: “Aaron Agassi” arisia

    I would not be surprised if both parties are under legal restrictions as to what they can say publicly about the lawsuit and the outcome.

  8. I’ve heard third-hand accounts of the Walter Breen story before, but never anything about a lawsuit being involved, I don’t think. And I don’t see anything about a lawsuit at your helpful link (thanks), though I may have just missed it or not drilled down deep enough.

    The various Agassi situations have been much rehashed in the last few days. There are conflicting accounts of whether he actually sued Arisia or simply threatened to sue them. I suppose if I were really all THAT curious about it could such public records on that one, though they might be sealed.

  9. I thought Disclave folded because its committee (specifically, Joe Mayhew) decided not to hold the 1998 convention, and not because of legal action by the hotel. Is that right?

    The important question is: is Readercon a 501 (c) (3) with limited liability for its officers, or isn’t it? (I don’t know.)

  10. It’s not a convention, but The SCA is currently paying out a large settlement to victims of sexual abuse. The grounds of the lawsuit were that the SCA did not have effective policies and procedures to protect victims.

    Except as a good failed public relations example, the Breendoggle is a red herring. It’s not a good example of how or why to refuse membership to a person.

    Breen was excluded because of what he might do. That’s shaky. Excluding someone for activities they engaged in that violated convention policies (whether at your convention or other conventions)? Pretty easy to defend, and a snap if it’s directly connected to your convention.

  11. Mike: Thanks for the clarification of what happened to the 1998 Disclave.

    Andrew Trembley: I didn’t know about the SCA lawsuit and that is VERY interesting. Thanks for the link.

  12. Readercon, Incorporated is listed in the Commonwealth of Massachusett’s Corporate Division as a nonprofit corporation. There is also a list of officers attached to the filing, but I won’t go into that, right now. It’s all public, either way.

  13. Taral Wayne, it seems to me that a great deal of the trouble that’s arisen over this situation is that Readercon’s zero-tolerance policy WASN’T followed. If it had been, what would the reaction have been, do you think?

    And for the record, I personally think zero-tolerance policies make for bad law and public policy but perfectly acceptable private organization practice. The purpose of zero-tolerance in this case is not to punish René Walling or anybody else, but to protect the convention and its attendees. After all, all zero-tolerance in this case means is that if you harass someone–which Walling admits he did–then you don’t get to come back to a particular convention.

    Whether Walling reforms or not isn’t the point and, I think, inappropriate for a convention to judge in any case. Should he have learned his lesson, there are plenty of other conventions for him to attend. Last I checked, for example, he’s still on the list of program participants at the upcoming Worldcon.

  14. Actually, scratch that last sentence. It seems his name has been removed from Chicon 7’s “Also Appearing” list.

  15. @Christopher: Interesting development in any case, and to me because Chicon sent my program schedule at the beginning of the week and I saw I was slated to be on a panel with him. Perhaps Walling withdrew? I’ve seen nothing that says the committee initiated this.

  16. @Mike: Yes, interesting, and like you I’ve seen nothing that indicates that the Chicon 7 committee initiated it. Impossible to say, and whichever direction it came from it seems unlikely a public announcement would be made about it, which may in fact be for the best.

  17. I don’t attend cons…and am not part of this community…but I do sit on a non-profit board and work in a large corporation so I’ve been in a couple different environments where harrassment can occur. The one thing I’ll point out is that the board should not have made either party’s name public. That is probably the biggest thing that has made them vulnerable if someone does choose to sue them.

  18. Christopher: that’s certainly one way of avoiding the present situation. I think it might have been better not to have “mandatory sentencing” in the first place — leave the committee room to decide how to deal with a situation when it comes up, observing guide-lines of course, but based on the specific case. This is why court trials have judges, and why mandatory sentencing laws in the US have probably done more harm than good, by filling jails with minor offenders. Had the Readercon committee had some power of discretion, they could have fitted the punishment to the crime without the episode of breast beating aftwards.

    Of course, you may feel that permanent banning from future Readercons is the appropriate punishment for the crime. That isn’t for me to say, having not looked closely at the details. But I think the process would have gone smoother if the power to make such decisions lay with the committee, not a a string of words on a piece of paper.

  19. I was surprised to read this phrase Locus Online’s post about the Readercon statement “…a lifetime ban for Rene Walling after he admitted to harassing another covention member.” Genevieve Valentine described objective actions, witnessed by others, and the Readercon committee said it interviewed the key people, including Walling, and believed that the information the parties shared was “consistent.” Walling’s actions included attempts to apologize, so he must have agreed there was some level of misbehavior or wrongdoing. However, in contrast to newswriters and many dozens of commenters who have characterized his actions as harassment, I have never seen a statement from Walling admitting to harassment. It’s one thing for reporters to call the actions by that name in a story, and quite another to put the word in his mouth.

  20. Yes, in fact if you will reread my comment you will discover I already connected those very dots. An inference is emphatically not the same thing as a direct quote from Walling calling himself a harasser.

  21. Ah! I was thinking you were confining yourself to calling Locus the “reporters” here, sorry. I guess I’m thinking of the past Readercon board as a “source,” to carry on with the news parlance. As for hearing from Walling at this point, qui tacet consentire videtur, I guess. And of course he’s reported to having admitted it–do you not trust the sources that have reported that?

  22. Why is this a hard one for you? Where is Rene Walling’s quote? The question cannot be disposed of by guesses about the contents of phone calls or emails between Readercon and Walling simply because the board’s characterization is not in dispute. Their characterization is a different issue than whether he applied the word to himself.

  23. I’m puzzled by your tone. Nothing’s hard for me here, I don’t think. I’m no more missing René Walling’s quote that I would be in any reported news story where someone was reported to have plead guilty to something. To paraphrase something I asked Lloyd Penney the other day in another thread, if you read in your local paper about some person being punished by a court of law after having plead guilty of a crime, would you be surprised to not find a quote from the guilty party in the story? Or would you instead (and maybe you would!) instead think “Well, it’s just the targets of the crime, the judge, and the witnesses who have weighed in after the person has pled guilty? How can we truly know?” Do you see the point I’m trying to make? In my experience, papers don’t carry quotes from people who have plead guilty, and the public doesn’t cry for them.

  24. Fine, you agree there is no Walling quote in which he admits to “harassment.” Makes no difference to the point under discussion whether you miss it or not.

  25. Yes, I agree that there’s no quote. I guess our point of disagreement is whether or not there NEEDS to be one?

  26. Yes,when Locus says somebody has admitted something, they need to be able to point to an admission. It’s about good journalism.

Comments are closed.