The argument that people were not filing complaints is baseless. HR does not need a complaint to launch its own investigation.
If their defense is that they had not heard the rumors then the follow-up question is "Why not?" Are they saying they didn't have departmental liaisons or meetings with employees in various departments to get a sense of morale and leadership? And why was HR seen as so ineffectual that no complainants walked through its door or made a phone call?
I think we know the answer to that and it is an indictment of the passivity of many HR professionals. That passivity is one reason why I've long recommended that Equal Employment Opportunity issues be handled by an office that is separate from Human Resources and which either directly reports to, or has the option of reporting to, the Chief Executive Officer. Why is that helpful? Because clout is crucial and, in many employment matters, it is the HR Department itself that needs to be investigated.
Even aside from harassment cases, however, it helps to have a separate office whose sole mission is to prevent illegal discrimination and which investigates potential discrimination matters in a prompt, thorough, and impartial manner and then makes reasonable recommendations based upon its findings.
"Where was HR?" We are going to be hearing that question more frequently in the days ahead.