A Hamilton Street Railway inspector has been awarded $25,000 because the city did not seriously investigate her sexual harassment complaint.
Cathie Coward / The Hamilton Spectator
A female Hamilton Street Railway inspector has been awarded $25,000 in a sexual harassment case.
This case highlights the legal obligation of employers to investigate sexual harassment claims in a timely and thorough way. They must also later take steps to deal with a poisoned work environment.
The employee, identified as ‘AB’ in the case report worked for the HSR for 23 years. She became an inspector in 2003 where her responsibilities included keeping buses moving efficiently by communicating with drivers on the road.
In November 2010, AB launched a complaint through the City of Hamilton’s harassment policy against her supervisor William Richardson alleging that he called her a vulgar name on speaker phone. The conversation was heard by many of her colleagues. The complaint included additional allegations of pornographic emails, inappropriate touching and lewd comments going back several years.
Evidence submitted at a subsequent grievance hearing revealed that prior to filing the complaint, AB spoke to the Transit Director Donald Hull. He assured her that Richardson had been warned about his conduct. When she asked him what he was going to do about it, he told her to contact the Transit Manager Chris Garrish.
AB further testified that when she met with Garrish, he tried to excuse Richardson’s conduct because he was a long-time employee saying that his behaviour was due to ignorance, rather than ill-intent.
As a result, she contacted her Amalgamated Transit Union representative who arranged a meeting in November 2010 with the City of Hamilton’s Human Rights specialist Annie Strojin. AB told the grievance hearing that Strojin said her complaint had merit and the emails alone were enough for Richardson to lose his job.
After several meetings over the next few months, the only tangible follow up was that in January 2011 a disciplinary letter was placed in Richardson’s file. Strojin subsequently closed the case, noting “she had reviewed the steps that had been taken” and “the matter was resolved.”
AB felt this outcome left her vulnerable to further harassment and reprisals. The difficulties at work continued and she changed to the night shift to avoid Richardson.
The shift change effectively eliminated her seniority rights. It also disrupted her sleep, health and family life. She missed shifts due to stress.
In February 2011, AB filed a grievance against the City of Hamilton, Richardson and Garrish, which was heard over 13 days between June 2012 and May 2013. On the second day of the grievance hearings, the City reported that Richardson had been fired for lying about the pornographic emails and that his severance package included 18 months’ salary worth over $200,000.
In a September 2013 decision Arbitrator Kelly Waddingham found Richardson’s conduct egregious and the City’s conduct in the aftermath of AB’s complaint unpardonable. Her superiors did not rally to her support by taking up the matter in a serious way, leaving her to advance the matter alone.
Waddingham awarded AB $25,000 against the City, while acknowledging that the award did not address the full extent of the discrimination and harassment she suffered. She also ordered that AB be compensated for sick days linked to the poisoned work environment.
“The harasser was effectively rewarded with a $200,000 settlement while the employer refused throughout the process to pay one penny to the victim,” says AB’s lawyer, Cynthia Watson, a partner with the Toronto law firm Watson Burns.
“This award is considered a great victory by many, but we have a long way to go when our legal process allows a man who was responsible for sexual harassment to walk away with eight times more than the injured party,” Watson says.