A union member has won a legal battle against local union officials after they engaged in a “campaign” against him that attacked his credibility and resulted in him being subjected to a harassment complaint.
The employee, Benoit, worked in a correctional institution. He sent an e-mail to an Assistant Warden expressing concern that “CXJ”, a female correctional officer, was not wearing proper safety equipment. The Assistant Warden copied Trimble, a correctional officer at the institution and an executive on the union local, on her response.
Trimble forwarded the e-mail chain to two other local union officials, Smith and Clarke, with disparaging commentary about Benoit. Unfortunately for Benoit, Smith was in an intimate relationship with CXJ. Trimble forwarded the entire e-mail string to CXJ, who evidently became upset and filed a harassment complaint against Benoit, which was eventually dismissed.
Benoit confronted Trimble, but Trimble denied forwarding the e-mail to CXJ. Subsequently Trimble sent a disparaging e-mail to Benoit which Trimble printed to all printers in the institution, apparently so that all bargaining unit members could read it.
Benoit later filed a harassment complaint against Trimble, which the employer determined was founded.
The adjudicator, a member of the Public Service Labour Relations Board, found that the union officials engaged in an “ongoing campaign” to discredit and demean Benoit. Trimble’s conduct was the most egregious. Smith, the intimate partner of CXJ, had been in a conflict of interest, and Clarke had the ability to stop the campaign but did not. As a result, Benoit ceased seeking assistance from the union. The union officials chose sides against Benoit, were biased against him, and were not acting in good faith as representatives of the union. They each breached their duty of fair representation to him.
The adjudicator ordered that the union pay $2,000.00 in damages to Benoit; that the adjudicator’s decision be posted on all bulletin boards in the institution for 12 months; that the decision be posted on the union’s website for 3 months; and that the decision be sent to each member of the institution accompanied by a letter advising that the adjudicator determined that the union breached its duty of fair representation. This was a significant “shaming” of the local union and the three officials.
This decision illustrates that it is not only employers that can be liable for harassment; union officials must avoid harassing conduct and must represent members fairly.
Benoit v. Trimble et al., 2014 PSLRB 46 (CanLII)