A union member has won a legal battle against local union
officials after they engaged in a "campaign" against
him that attacked his credibility and resulted in him being
subjected to a harassment complaint.
The employee, Benoit, worked in a correctional institution.
He sent an e-mail to an Assistant Warden expressing concern that
"CXJ", a female correctional officer, was not wearing
proper safety equipment. The Assistant Warden
copied Trimble, a correctional officer at the institution
and an executive on the union local, on her response.
Trimble forwarded the e-mail chain to two other local union
officials, Smith and Clarke, with disparaging commentary about
Benoit. Unfortunately for Benoit, Smith was in an
intimate relationship with CXJ. Trimble forwarded the entire
e-mail string to CXJ, who evidently became upset and filed a
harassment complaint against Benoit, which was eventually
Benoit confronted Trimble, but Trimble denied forwarding the
e-mail to CXJ. Subsequently Trimble sent a disparaging e-mail
to Benoit which Trimble printed to all printers in the
institution, apparently so that all bargaining unit members could
Benoit later filed a harassment complaint against Trimble, which
the employer determined was founded.
The adjudicator, a member of the Public Service Labour Relations
Board, found that the union officials engaged in an "ongoing
campaign" to discredit and demean Benoit. Trimble's
conduct was the most egregious. Smith, the intimate partner
of CXJ, had been in a conflict of interest, and Clarke had the
ability to stop the campaign but did not. As a result, Benoit
ceased seeking assistance from the union. The union officials
chose sides against Benoit, were biased against him, and were not
acting in good faith as representatives of the union. They each
breached their duty of fair representation to him.
The adjudicator ordered that the union pay $2,000.00 in damages
to Benoit; that the adjudicator's decision be posted on all
bulletin boards in the institution for 12 months; that the decision
be posted on the union's website for 3 months; and that
the decision be sent to each member of the institution accompanied
by a letter advising that the adjudicator determined that the union
breached its duty of fair representation. This was a significant
"shaming" of the local union and the three officials.
This decision illustrates that it is not only employers that can
be liable for harassment; union officials must avoid harassing
conduct and must represent members fairly.
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