Moral Foundations, Himpathy, and Punishment Following Organizational Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Samantha J. Dodson, Rachael Goodwin, Jesse Graham, Kristina Diekmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We build on deontic justice and moral foundations theories to shed light on
responses to sexual misconduct at work by proposing a model that explains why some
third parties punish accusing victims and support alleged perpetrators. We theorize that
when third parties are given conflicting he-said, she-said information, they intuitively evaluate
organizational injustice based on moral values. We further theorize that binding moral
foundations (loyalty, authority, purity) give rise to sympathy toward men accused of sexual
misconduct and anger toward female accusers. Across five studies (total n � 5,413) utilizing
archival, field, and vignette designs, we examined third-party responses to sexual
misconduct accusations ranging in severity across several industries. Third-party endorsement
of binding moral foundations was linked to increased perpetrator-directed sympathy
and victim-directed anger (Studies 1–4). These emotions jointly mediated the relationship
between binding values and credibility perceptions of the accusing victim and the alleged
perpetrator (Studies 2 and 3). Moreover, victim credibility was negatively associated with
social sanctions and punishment severity levied toward the accusing victim, and perpetrator
credibility was negatively associated with the same punishment outcomes for the
alleged perpetrator (Studies 3 and 4). In Study 5, we found that managers framing the
accusing victim as disloyal exacerbated negative judgments and emotions toward the victim
and positive judgments and emotions toward the perpetrator for individuals who
highly ascribe to binding moral foundations. We discuss the theoretical contributions and
practical implications of moral concerns on third parties’ emotions, judgments, and motivations
to punish actors involved in sexual misconduct allegations.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages28
JournalOrganization Science
StatePublished - Feb 13 2023


  • morality, ethics, emotions, justice, sexual misconduct


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