Appeals Court Rules Dismissal Too Extreme in Sexual Harassment Case
A Massachusetts Appeals Court recently upheld an arbitrator’s decision that the firing of a long-term city employee was too drastic and called to reinstate the employee in his job as a messenger for the Springfield Housing Office. Gregory Ashe, accused of sexual harassment in 2012 based on allegations he used vulgar language and grabbed his crotch in front of a female co-worker, could return to his job in the coming months. Ashe’s attorney said that according to arbitration and the court decision, his client should also receive back pay for up to three years.
The incident occurs in December 2012 when Ashe was upset by a phone call related to work. Reportedly, he described the person on the other end of the call using a vulgar term and asked his co-worker about the meaning of the word he used when she voiced disdain over his use of the term. He then grabbed his crotch, referenced “not getting any,” and began unbuckling his belt with this hand inside of his pants.
The court ruling agreed with the arbitration ruling that Ashe’s behavior did not require termination, but instead should be met with progressive discipline because it did not violate public policy. The ruling suggested counseling and training might be a better option. The court did conclude Ashe’s conduct constitutes sexual harassment prohibited by Massachusetts law and public policy, but pointed out there were extenuating circumstances to consider.
Ashe has significant mental and physical limitations, as well as a 20+ year work history free of problems. The court believes he is entitled to be reinstated to his position without loss of compensation or other rights.