Worker's anger over breakup leads to campaign of harassment
An arbitrator has upheld the discharge of an Ontario correctional officer who repeatedly harassed a co-worker who was a former girlfriend, including an attempt to undermine her that over-reached his authority and potentially endangered staff and inmates.
Richard Huppmann was a field intelligence officer (FIO) for the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. His job duties involved identifying and monitoring members of “security threat groups” (STGs), which were inmates in custody who were part of gangs, terrorist groups or other criminal groups.
Huppmann and his manager were also both members of the Ontario Gang Investigators Association, so Huppmann was given a senior role to provide guidance, advice, training and orientation assistance to other FIOs.
During the initial training and orientation of FIOs, Huppmann became close with a female FIO — referred to as AA. They soon became romantically involved and had a relationship for several years.
In 2013, two investigation units merged, leading to a reduction of FIOs. FIOs had to compete for the remaining positions and AA was one of the top candidates who could choose where to go. Huppmann didn't get a choice, so he declined and returned to his role of operational manager at the same institution where AA worked.
The relationship between Huppmann and AA went sour in 2013. It wasn’t an amicable breakup and AA was concerned there would be a negative impact on her relationships with co-workers and the workplace. These concerns seemed well-founded when she heard from three different colleagues that Huppmann told them he hated her and they had previously fallen in love.
Toxic atmosphere at work
Over the next couple of years, there were several incidents involving the two, including:
• AA received a text message from Huppmann warning her not to contact him in any way and accusing her of using him to get her job.
• Huppmann told his manager that AA “better not be” chosen to attend a conference to which he was going. When AA attended the conference, Huppmann refused to serve her at the bar he was staffing in front of others, mouthed “f--- off” to her in an elevator, and he made insulting comments about her in front of others.
• Huppmann told the security manager loudly in front of AA and a police officer that he needed to speak in confidence to the manager, causing AA and the officer to leave.
• In July 2014, AA was leaving the institution and saw Huppmann waiting to enter.
She made eye contact with him in the space between the two security doors and Huppmann quickly closed the door behind him, leaving her trapped there. She had to get the attention of the officers inside to get them to re-open the door.
• Huppmann told an operational managerthat he was upset AA was an FIO and that he felt he was more qualified, mentioning that he had broken off a personal relationship with AA and she wasn’t happy about it.
• AA found out Huppmann was telling staff at the institution that she would be investigating them, which wasn’t true — FIOs had no role in internal investigations — and this made her concerned she would lose the trust and confidence of colleagues.
Change made in security database
Correctional services maintain an offender tracking information system (OTIS), which is an electronic database of current and past offenders. OTIS entries can also have “nonassociations” — warnings to corrections staff if two inmates who should be kept apart are put together. All management-level staff can expire an active non-association.
In 2015, two inmates who had a nonassociation in their files because they were rival gang members were incarcerated at the institution where Huppmann and AA worked. AA started monitoring both because of past incidents.
On March 2, 2015, Huppmann accessed OTIS and expired the non-association for the two inmates AA was monitoring. He didn’t enter his name or provide a reason, but the senior manager of the IT department identified him based on his username.
The next day, the on-duty sergeant at the institution contacted AA to ask if it was OK to house the two inmates together since the non-association had expired. He reported that an anonymous letter had been sent to security that expressed fear from other inmates that the two in question were trying to be housed together and one had a ceramic knife. AA contacted the records manager and had the non-association reactivated immediately.
An investigation into the removal of the non-association was launched. Huppmann was advised by email of the investigation and the events around it, but he didn’t respond.
The investigation revealed that Huppmann had expired the non-association in OTIS — it was the only such change he had ever made in the system — and AA became concerned that it was another attempt to undermine her as an FIO, since if something had gone wrong because the two inmates were together it would reflect poorly on her because she was monitoring them.
A few months later, in October 2015, Huppmann advised about an inmate that might be an STG member. AA investigated and an email to Huppmann about it resulted in a reply that AA felt was disrepectful and “schooled” her in things she knew. The reply was copied to upper management. That evening, Huppmann texted her, saying, “Do not challenge me again... I will not be so polite next time. Clear?”
AA felt physically threatened, so she informed her manager of the text, filed a complaint under the ministry’s Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Policy, and called the police.
The manager asked Huppmann to submit an occurrence report, which he found defensive and antagonistic toward AA. In the ensuing investigation, Huppmann denied targeting or harassing AA. The investigator, however, determined that Huppmann had harassed AA and poisoned her work environment.
The acting director of the regional office accepted the investigation’s findings and felt that Huppmann’s expiry of the non-association exceeded his authority and put the institution at risk. In addition, Huppmann hadn’t shown any remorse or accepted responsibility for his conduct — during the meeting to discuss the allegations, Huppmann joked that if any discipline was to be imposed, he’d like it to be in January “so that he could go skiing.”
The ministry terminated Huppmann’s employment for breaching the harassment prevention policy, threatening physical violence in breach of the workplace violence prevention policy, and expiring the non-association.
Huppmann challenged his dismissal, arguing that his misconduct wasn’t premeditated and the ministry didn’t take appropriate steps to manage and resolve the conflict between him and AA. He also claimed there was no irreparable damage in the working relationship with his employer.
The arbitrator found that “Huppmann and AA clearly had a toxic relationship that was fuelled by their prior intimate relationship and, inevitably, by the reorganization and subsequent competition for an FIO position in which AA was one of the successful candidates for a reduced number of positions.” In addition, Huppmann was “unable to control his anger or frustration or keep his personal feelings out of the workplace,” which led to “unwelcome, demeaning and hostile” behaviour toward AA.
The arbitrator also found that the accounts of Huppmann’s interactions with AA from her as well as the manager and other staff members were consistent and credible. Huppmann’s denials weren’t backed up by evidence and were motivated by self-preservation, the arbitrator added.
On top of the harassing behaviour toward AA, the arbitrator found that the expiry of the non-association — for which Huppmann didn’t have authority — was “shockingly reckless” and, without another explanation, was likely an attempt to cause a negative impact on AA.
“[Huppmann’s] actions placed his colleagues and inmates at considerable risk for harm, was a serious act of misconduct and a grave lapse in judgment,” said the arbitrator.
The arbitrator determined that the seriousness of Huppmann’s misconduct and his lack of remorse or acknowledgment outweighed his 15 years of discipline-free service. As a result, the dismissal was “a proportionate response to the allegations.”
For more information, see:
- Huppmann and The Crown in Right of Ontario (Ministry of the Solicitor General), Re (Aug. 19, 2019), PSGB # P-2016-1778 (Can. Pub. Service Grievance Bd.).