In a precedent-setting judgment, the National Labor Court has ruled that a relationship between a man and a female subordinate that is based solely on sexual relations, constitutes sexual harassment, even if the woman initiated the relationship. The innovation in the ruling is in the sentence "in cases of a relationship that is in essence opportunistic sexual relations in the workplace, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the superior, even if it proven that the subordinate seduced him."
The ruling is expected to shake up inter-gender relations in the workplace. The National Labor Court sought in the ruling "to send a clear message to employers and superiors that intimate-sexual relations between a superior and a subordinate, which are concluded in acts of purely sexual nature at the workplace, constitute an unacceptable norm that reach the level of sexual harassment."
The National Labor Court overturned a ruling by the Haifa District Labor Court and ordered the chief engineer, aged 47, at a high-tech company to pay NIS 35,000 in compensation to a woman engineer who worked as a software tester at the company in a team that he headed.
Although both parties were married, a sexual relationship developed between them, which lasted for eight months, during which time they had intimate encounters in the company's bomb shelter, at the beach, and in a car to and from work. The engineer knew that the woman was taking anti-depressant drugs, and when the relationship ended, he began a relationship with another woman at the company. The engineer reported this relationship to his superiors.
The first woman filed suit, via Adv. Vered Sadot, accusing the engineer of rape, only after the second woman employee became the engineer's partner, and almost two years after the affair ended. Haifa District Labor Court Judge Dalit Guilah dismissed the case, ruling that the woman had initiated the intimate relationship and that the acts were consensual.
The National Labor Court judges ruled that there was no compulsion, force, pressure, or hostile atmosphere on the part of the superior at the workplace both during the relationship and afterwards. However, Judge Varda Wirth Livne ruled, "The superior bears enhanced responsibility that is intended to create a protected workplace for his subordinates, which requires an extra degree of caution. Relationships between a superior and subordinate are fertile ground for exploitation of a sexual nature of the subordinate in view of her economic and professional dependence."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 27, 2008
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