Unionized worker provides a good example of what harassment looks like

For those who want to know what harassment looks like in the workplace, this case provides a good example.

On July 1, arbitrator Dana Randall upheld Unimin Canada Ltd.’s termination of grievor R.V. following his earlier suspension for “what can only be characterized as egregious breaches” of the employer’s harassment prevention policy.

While Randall found the victim, S.S., “was not thin-skinned” and had “survived six years in a rough and tumble, entirely male environment,” it’s clear from the arbitration award in Unimin Canada Ltd. v. United Steelworkers Local 5383 she endured what appears to be tortuous comments about her weight and appearance.

“She tried to grin and bear it, but gradually came to despair of it ever ending,” wrote Randall. “Formerly very happy at work, she began despairing of going in to work.”

The allegations against R.V. included:

•    Showing S.S. a picture of an obese woman in the newspaper and saying, “I didn’t know your picture was in the paper.” He then proceeded to tell others what he had done.

•    Telling her in front of others that the medium-sized T-shirt she had asked for at a company event wouldn’t fit her.

•    Changing her food order at a charity barbecue from one hamburger to “10 hamburgers and 15 big sausages.”

•    Making sexual comments about both S.S. and her mother.

Other staff corroborated many of the allegations and said R.V. had made additional offensive comments about S.S. as well as other highly graphic sexual remarks about women in general, according to Randall.

In the fall of 2013, the company suspended R.V. for 15 days, a number reduced to 10 days following a grievance. In its suspension letter, it warned him against retaliating against anyone who lodged complaints.

“If any retaliation by you is confirmed, you will be subject to immediate termination,” the letter stated.

Soon after, the company fired R.V. over allegations of retaliation. The union grieved the firing, which was the issue before Randall in last week’s decision. The allegations included evidence from a colleague that R.V. had said words to the effect that “once the dust settled, he would go after” S.S. and saying to a friend “the suspension was bullshit.”

The colleague also said R.V. told a group of employees he had a list of everyone who had talked and he at one point commented: “There are rats everywhere.”

Randall upheld R.V.’s termination.

“That the grievor would stand up, address the employees assembled . . . and make comments about how lame his apology letter was and how he had a list of the people who had spoken against him, is enough to establish the employer’s case,” he wrote.

“The grievor’s denial of same is not remotely credible. His suggestion that the rats comment had to do with actual rodents is not believable.”

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