Court: Boss guilty of harassment despite non-coercion

Judges award NIS 35,000 in damages to a 43-year-old woman who maintained sexual relationship with chief engineer.

Israeli women 88 (photo credit:)
Israeli women 88
(photo credit: )
Women activists and experts in work relations have welcomed a decision handed down by the National Labor Court which maintained that a superior in the office hierarchy who had sexual relations with a subordinate was guilty of sexual harassment even though the relationship was voluntary and mutual and may have been initiated by the subordinate. Attorney Sigal Pa'il said over the weekend that "there must be a clear and unequivocal message regarding the norms of conduct in hierarchical relations at the workplace to turn it as much as possible into a sterile place free of intimate relations between employer and employee. The Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law imposes extra responsibility on the employer to prevent sexual harassment, especially inside the workplace." A panel of five judges on Wednesday overturned a district court decision and awarded NIS 35,000 in damages to a 43-year-old woman who maintained a sexual relationship with the chief engineer of the company. The chief engineer was head of several departments, including the one in which the plaintiff worked. The relationship was entirely sexual and took place in the office, in the car on the way to or from work and at the beach. Each was married when they met. The district court accepted the man's claim that the woman had flirted with and tried to seduce him. It also ruled that the plaintiff was obliged to provide stronger proof to back her charges than she would in ordinary civil suit. Nonetheless, National Labor Court Judge Varda Wirth Livne wrote that "I place the main burden of responsibility on the person who had the authority and attribute less responsibility to the employee who worked under him. "This is the precedent which I would like to bring to my decision. When we are talking about a relationship that entails nothing more than occasional sex in the security room of the work place, and when, even according to the superior's version, the relationship did not include anything more than sex, all the responsibility falls on the superior and there is no relevance to the fact that the employee tried to seduce him by wearing provocative clothes or acting in a certain way." Wirth Livne added that "the aim of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law is to convey a message to employers and superiors that sexual-intimate relations between a superior and an employee which includes no more than sexual acts in the work place should be perceived as inappropriate behavior which should be regarded as sexual harassment while exploiting one's authority."