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Worker awarded $25K after sexual harassment

(Canadian OH&S News)


(Canadian OH&S News)

A transit inspector in Hamilton, Ontario is set to receive a $25,000 settlement, plus pre- and post-judgement interest, from the City of Hamilton for damages resulting from sexual harassment by her former employer.

Arbitrator Kelly Waddingham awarded the sum to the 23-year employee — identified only as “AB” in the decision document — on Sept. 18 in Toronto. The ruling in the case, which pitted the city against Local 107 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU Local 107), found that AB’s ex-supervisor with the Hamilton Street Railway Company (HSR), Bill Richardson, had harassed her from December 2006 to February 2011, in the forms of profane and pornographic emails, unwanted touching and derogatory and sexualized comments.

Eric Tuck, vice president of ATU Local 107, said that the city’s response to AB’s harassment complaints had only exacerbated her suffering.

“After what the employer put her through, I would say it doesn’t adequately compensate her,” said Tuck. While the union had initially offered to settle for only $5,000, he explained, “we asked for a lot more damages. This wasn’t about money. It was more about the way she was treated afterwards, that caused the request for a higher settlement.”

Waddingham found the city liable for failing to protect employees from harassment and discrimination. According to the decision document, officials at HSR did not sufficiently respond to AB’s complaints against Richardson or take them seriously — and even went to great lengths to try to discredit her evidence.

“The employer actually compounded the damages to this individual by hiring an incompetent computer expert, basically accusing her of forging these documents,” Tuck said, referring to Richardson’s inappropriate emails. “And the union had to go out and pay almost $50,000 for a computer expert to counter that. We proved that she actually didn’t. They were sent from his [Richardson’s] computer. Had we not done that, this case might have had a totally different outcome.”

HSR — operated by the City of Hamilton — did not respond to calls from COHSN.

AB filed her first formal complaint against Richardson on November 8, 2010, in response to his allegedly having called her an “Irish skank” the previous September; the complaint also referred to Richardson’s inappropriate behaviour dating back to 2008.

“Mr. Richardson’s conduct left AB feeling humiliated and powerless,” Waddingham stated in her decision. “AB’s isolation and sense of powerlessness was even more acute in the aftermath of her workplace complaint and the investigation. She resumed smoking and began seeing a therapist. Her attendance at work slipped to the point that she was put on an attendance management program.”

HSR fired Richardson in 2012, not because of his inappropriate behaviour towards AB, but because he had lied to the company about having sent the pornographic emails to her.

Tuck pointed out that this kind of continuous sexual harassment has remained a problem in many male-dominated industries, including police and fire services.

“More and more women are coming and entering into the workforce,” he said. “People have to change. It’s a cultural change, where you have to change your attitudes, you have to change the way you conduct yourself, you have to be more sensitive to who you’re standing beside. We have to get with the times.”

In addition to granting the financial award to AB, Waddington also ordered the city to have a reevaluation done of its It Starts with You human rights training program and to post notices about reporting discrimination and harassment in HSR’s offices.


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1 Comment » for Worker awarded $25K after sexual harassment
  1. Hugh Pelmore says:

    Respectful workplace behaviours should not be optional; however, they are in many Canadian workplaces. Key components of an effective respectful workplace program.
    1. Harassment policy with teeth
    2. Formal complaint process
    3. Investigation process
    4. Disciplinary process
    5. Buy in from management, union, HR and employees
    6. Willingness and support to take action

    Critical that staff and supervisors are motivated to
    professionally respond early on to unwanted workplace behaviours. Typically, training programs focus
    on an explanation of company policy and how to report harassment but don’t
    provide the tools needed to effectively speak up and deal with the small % of staff that choose not to play by the rules.The problem in many workplaces:
    -Lack of clear expectations and consequences for employee conduct.
    -Counting on policies and laws to stop behaviours.
    -Too much emphasis on the utopian workplace.
    -Poor supervision and response to complaints.
    -Training that does not address employee/supervisor fear of conflict and motivate the reasonable majority to take action.

    Hugh

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