A recent case illustrates the importance of conducting a
careful, sensitive investigation of sexual harassment
complaints. An employer's "unpardonable"
response to a sexual harassment complaint has resulted in an
arbitrator's rebuke and $25,000.00 in damages.
The employee was the only female inspector with the Hamilton
Street Railway, the City of Hamilton's public transit
service. She filed a complaint with the City alleging that
her supervisor made a derogatory comment and had engaged in
inappropriate conduct for more than two years. The City reported
that the supervisor had been dismissed with a severance
The employee testified about a number of incidents of
harassment, including: she had received a number of
"pornographic" e-mails from her supervisor and
had asked him to stop, but he merely chuckled; her
supervisor had attempted to massage her shoulders; and he
called her an "Irish skank".
The arbitrator stated that she had "no difficulty"
accepting that the supervisor's conduct was sexual
The arbitrator decided that the City had not treated the
complaint seriously, dealt with the complaint promptly and
sensitively or investigated it properly, because:
-City managers did not contact the City's "Human Rights
Specialist" immediately, as required by the City's
"harassment and discrimination resolution" policy
-the managers "left the burden of dealing with the
matter" on the employee
-the managers did not appreciate the employee's particular
vulnerability in the workplace, the power imbalance, or the impact
it might have had on her
-the City did not "recommend and facilitate"
separating the employee from her supervisor in the workplace after
she filed the complaint
-the investigator failed to interview witnesses to some of the
incidents, effectively leaving them unresolved
-the requirements of the City's own "resolution
procedure" were not followed in that there was no written
report and the City did not report back to the employee on remedial
actions, and there was no evidence that remedial actions were ever
-the City accused her of fabricating e-mails
The arbirator found that the City's response to the
employee's harassment complaint had been "half-hearted and
The arbitrator ordered the City to pay $25,000.00 in damages,
plus interest, to the employee for the discrimination and
harasment that she had suffered. The arbitrator also ordered
the City to retain legal counsel or a consultant having expertise
in human rights to evaluate the City's "It Starts with
You" program and provide human rights and discrmination and
harassment training including in "the principles of a good
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