HSR Sexual Harassment Round Up

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We don’t know if you have been following the news story of a HSR [Hamilton Street Railway — Hamilton’s public transportation provider] employee who was fired for sexual harassment then hired with glowing references to Guelph Transit, so we thought that a round up of news articles was in order:

September 20th — News broke that “an arbitrator has awarded a 23-year employee of the HSR $25,000 after she was continually harassed for years.”

From the Hamilton Spectator article:

[Arbitrator Kelly] Waddingham chided the conduct of the city in the aftermath of the employee’s initial complaint by saying “the workplace investigation of (her) complaint and additional allegations was seriously flawed, no witness interviews, allegations left unresolved, no written report to (her) or transit managers.”

In her ruling, Waddingham ordered the city to have a human rights expert evaluate its programs and policies regarding discrimination and to provide training to inspectors, supervisors and managers of the HSR and to keep legal records of it. Waddingham also ordered the city to post Human Rights Code cards in two visible areas within public transit offices and compensate the woman for any sick days related to the harassment.

“It was never about the money but rather to correct a poisoned work environment,” Tuck said.

September 24th — The Hamilton Spectator was reporting that “the city dismissed Bill Richardson in August 2012 after determining he lied about sending pornographic emails to the HSR’s only female inspector’ but also that Richardson had been hired as “supervisor of mobility services in September after receiving “very satisfactory references” from two senior HSR managers.”

September 25th — We find out that Bill Richardson had been fired by the City of Guelph:

Richardson was fired Tuesday, 15 days after being hired as supervisor of mobility services. He was let go after Guelph officials learned of a recent grievance arbitration ruling filed by a woman who worked for Richardson at Hamilton Street Railway.

The arbitrator found Richardson had sent the woman lewd and pornographic emails, made sexual comments and gestures toward her and touched her against her wishes on several occasions over a three-year period.

We also learned that Richardson got a $200 000 severance package when he was fired from HSR.

And the survivor of Richardson’s harassment fears going back to work:

She’s been a Hamilton Street Railway  employee for 23 years. She loves her job — the friendships she develops with drivers, the camaraderie of coworkers, that feeling of satisfaction of helping people get to and from where they need to go.

But she’s not looking forward to going to work today.

She got the sense immediately, she said, that it was a male-dominated culture. She worried about proving she could do the job. It was “very tight group,” she testified. She watched another female try the role of inspector and leave, citing a “poisoned culture.” But AB stayed on.

According to the decision, AB complained to city management several times and had varied responses. Eventually, she switched to working nights to stay away from Richardson.

The city “failed to take even the most basic substantive measures to protect her — principally removing Mr. Richardson as her supervisor,” arbitrator Kelly Waddingham wrote in her Sept. 18 decision.

September 26th — Hamilton city counsellors discuss the case at a meeting.

The city’s top manager vowed to do a better job of protecting workers from harassment Wednesday after a contentious arbitration ruling criticized the “poisoned work environment” facing a female HSR inspector.

City manager Chris Murray said he will investigate the city’s response to the inspector’s complaint, which the arbitrator characterized as “unpardonable” and “seriously flawed.”

A few councillors had harsh words for staff after the meeting, including Scott Duvall, who said the arbitrator’s decision made it clear some managers “didn’t do their jobs.”

Murray said he would look back at all the steps that were taken — and maybe not taken” when dealing with the worker’s harassment complaints, which dated back to 2010. He also said he would personally apologize to the complainant — as soon as he finds answers to some of her anticipated questions.

Transit manager Don Hull said he didn’t understand the seriousness of the harassment complaint until well into the subsequent arbitration hearing. He acknowledged HSR management should have taken her concerns more seriously “from day one.”

Folks started talking about a change in the male dominated culture at HSR:

The transit agency has traditionally been a man’s world, said Don Hull, HSR director. But that is gradually changing.

A workplace harassment expert says that’s what needs to happen — visible and significant action to convince staff that the workplace is a safe one.

Lisa Barrow is a workplace harassment expert at Brock University’s Goodman School of Business. To move on from this, she said, HSR needs to make a visible effort to correct the situation. And employees need to be confident that harassment issues will be dealt with in a timely manner.

“What will happen is other employees will probably say ‘bravo, good for her for standing up for herself,’” Barrow said.

“However, if they don’t see any significant changes in the environment, in a few years, you’ll probably have other complaints of sexual harassment.”

And the City of Hamilton reviewed the satisfactory references that were given to Richardson when he applied to and was hired at Guelph Transit:

After firing Richardson, Guelph officials said they weren’t aware of the sexual harassment allegations involving their new hire and that two Hamilton Street Railway managers offered “very satisfactory” references for him.

“Based on the information received in this case … they both recommended we hire him,” Mark Amorosi, Guelph’s executive director of human resources told the Guelph Mercury Wednesday.

Murray made his comments Wednesday. The reference issue was one of several that Hamilton councillors obliged him to discuss in connection with the Richardson case at an evening meeting.

Every single report of harassment should be taken seriously.  It is absolutely awful that AB had to survive years of disgusting behaviour in her workplace.  Our thoughts are with each and every person who experiences harassment at work, at home, at school, in a bar, on the street, in a bus, anywhere!

The culture of sexism in the workplace needs to change now!

If you would like support from SACHA about sexual harassment please call our 24 Hour Support Line – 905.525.4162.

— compiled by erin

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