October 26, 2018

Arbitration award exonerating an employee the employer found guilty of sexually harassing a co-worker overturned as reflecting a "blame the victim" mentality


Arbitration award exonerating an employee the employer found guilty of sexually harassing a co-worker overturned as reflecting a "blame the victim" mentality
New York City Tr. Auth. v Phillips, 2018 NY Slip Op 02442, Appellate Division, First Department

The New York City Transit Authority [Authority] appealed a Supreme Court ruling rejecting its Article 75 petition seeking to vacate an arbitration award.

The New York City Transit Authority had sought a court order vacating a determination by an arbitrator that had set aside the Authority's determination that one of its employees [Harasser] was guilty of sexual harassment of his co-worker and the penalty it had imposed on Harasser -- termination from his position. Supreme Court denied the Authority's Article 75 petition to vacate an arbitration award, confirming the arbitration award and dismissing the proceeding. The Authority appealed the Supreme Court's decision.

The Appellate Division reversed the lower court's decision, on the law, granted the Authority's petition, and the remanded the matter to a different arbitrator to [1] enter a finding that Harasser had subjected a co-worker to inappropriate and unwelcome comments of a sexual nature in violation of the Authority's sexual and other discriminatory harassment policy and [2] to pass upon the appropriateness of the penalty of termination imposed by the Authority on Harasser.

The Appellate Division, in reversing the Supreme Court's ruling,  noted that [1] the arbitrator had "expressly" agreed with the pertinent factual findings set out in the investigation report submitted by the Authority's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity [EEO],* but [2] had nonetheless, "incredibly and inconsistent with his own findings, the arbitrator  ruled that [Harasser's] conduct did not "rise to the level" of sexual harassment."

Further, said the court, "[t]he arbitrator's decision fashions a remedy that violates public policy." Moreover, the award contains language maligning victims in an entirely inappropriate manner, including statements that it was incumbent on the involved co-worker to take appropriate action if she felt Harasser's comments were inappropriate and that such a "blame the victim" mentality inappropriately shifts the burden of addressing a hostile work environment to the employee.

The Appellate Division then opined that the arbitrator's decision belies the realities of workplace sexual harassment. "The fact that the victim did not earlier report [Harasser's] behavior is not atypical and should in no way be construed as absolving [Harasser] of his misconduct" and the arbitrator's decision shifts the onus to the employee to report and fend off the harasser.

Accordingly, explained the Appellate Division, "public policy prohibits enforcement of the arbitration award in this case."

* EEO's report concluding that there was reasonable cause to believe that the Harasser had subjected a co-worker to inappropriate and unwelcome comments of a sexual nature in violation of the Authority's' sexual and other discriminatory harassment policy, which policy defined sexual harassment to include "unwelcome sexual advances and other behavior of a sexual nature when . . . such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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