Parks supervisor schooled on sexual harassment

Inappropriate comments and texts to summer students enough to get demoted but not fired

The firing of an Ontario city parks worker over his sexual harassment of summer students has been overturned by an arbitrator, but he won’t be allowed to go back to his old job.

Sean Pastoor worked in the parks department of the City of Woodstock, Ont., for 20 years with no disciplinary problems. For the last 10 of those years, Pastoor was responsible for supervising students who worked in the department over the summer.

In June 2009, when Pastoor was an assistant supervisor, a 21-year-old female summer student filed a sexual harassment complaint against him, claiming he had harassed her and other female summer students since she started there in 2007.

Sexual comments to summer students

The student claimed Pastoor made sexual comments and sent inappropriate text messages to her and another female student. The messages were sent to her work and personal phone. She also said he invited the two young women to join him and his friend at his hot tub in their bikinis and he said he would like to play naked “marco polo” in his pool with them. Other incidents included Pastoor:

•Asking if all girls liked to be choked
•Inviting the two summer students, and later the complainant’s 16-year-old sister who also worked part-time with the parks department, to his hot tub
•Sending texts asking her to marry him, saying he wanted to eat ice cream off her body, commenting on her workout outfits and asking her to pick him up at a bar at 1 a.m.
•Asking a male summer student about the colour of her panties.

The summer student admitted she and her co-worker sometimes willingly took part in the conversations and responded inappropriately to the suggestive comments. They also gave him a framed photograph of the two of them and sex-themed cards. However, she said she thought this would lead to better work assignments and she didn’t come forward earlier because she was afraid of losing her job.

After the complaint was made, the city interviewed other current and former summer students. One former summer student reported Pastoor had tried to include himself in after-hours social activities and sometimes called her on evenings and weekends to invite her to bars. She also said he once told her she had a “nice bum” while she was bending over at work.

Another former summer student said she was warned by full-time employees about Pastoor’s tendency to make sexually appropriate comments to female students, which she said he did on “almost a daily basis.” She didn’t formally complain because she was afraid she wouldn’t be rehired, though she told him directly he was being a “pervert.” After that comment, Pastoor left her alone, she said.

It also came to light that Pastoor began dating a summer student in 2007 and eventually moved in with her.

The city also found several personal pictures loaded onto Pastoor’s work computer, including pictures of the complainant in non-work settings and bending over at work, pictures of the student he dated bending over and lying in bed with him, an unidentified woman’s cleavage, pictures of himself making lewd gestures and a series of photos of two young girls walking, taken from behind them. Pastoor said he didn’t take most of the pictures but did load them onto the computer, to which other employees had access.

Not harassment, just banter: Fired supervisor

On July 17, 2009, the city terminated Pastoor’s employment for “totally inappropriate, sexually harassing and intimidating” behaviour and abusing his role as a supervisor. Pastoor filed a grievance through the union, claiming he was fired without cause. He also denied harassing the students, claiming if he knew the behaviour was unwanted, he would have stopped, as he did with the student who called him a pervert.

The arbitrator found the city did not have a policy prohibiting fraternization of supervisors with other employees, but noted these were students who were younger and over whom he had authority. It should have occurred to Pastoor that his behaviour was inappropriate, especially regarding the 16-year-old, said the arbitrator, and the city would have had a problem if any of the students’ parents had become aware of the situation and complained.

The arbitrator found Pastoor’s behaviour constituted vexatious behaviour that he should reasonably have known to be unwelcome, meeting the definition of harassment in the Ontario Human Rights Code. Though the city’s harassment policy allowed a certain level of “social bantering,” the arbitrator did not consider Pastoor’s comments as acceptable bantering. The photos on the computer also constituted serious misconduct, said the arbitrator.

The arbitrator also found Pastoor should not have simply expected the students to tell him if his comments were inappropriate, since they were subordinates and “may have lacked the maturity and wherewithal to be able to discern the appropriate reaction” to the comments.

However, Pastoor’s 20 years of discipline-free service and the fact the harassment didn’t go beyond verbal and texted comments, led the arbitrator to determine he should get another chance at employment. The city was ordered to reinstate Pastoor with a two-month suspension. However, the arbitrator found he couldn’t be trusted with the responsibilities of a supervisory position and ruled he be “indefinitely demoted” to a non-supervisory job.

“Through his actions (Pastoor) has unequivocally demonstrated that he lacked an appreciation of the role of a supervisor and the responsibilities inherent in such a position,” said the arbitrator. See Woodstock (City) v. C.U.P.E., Local 1146, 2010 CarswellOnt 8106 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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