Israeli Court Cuts Teacher's Sexual Harassment Compensation for Failing to Report Prior Incidents

The judge ruled that the teacher ‘contributed to the occurrence’ by failing to report prior incidents, but said the reduction in compensation does not legitimize the harassment, ‘which must be completely condemned’

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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The Krayot Magistrate's Court
The Krayot Magistrate's CourtCredit: Mayan Moran/Jini 2008
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

A Krayot Magistrate’s Court judge reduced the amount of compensation awarded to a teacher in a civil suit for sexually harassment because the teacher had not reported prior incidents of harassment at her school. Judge Pnina Lockitch ruled that as a result of the woman’s “contributory” conduct, the 454,897 shekel ($139,000) judgment in the woman’s favor would be reduced by 10 percent.

“Not providing information on the prior incidents against her significantly contributed to the occurrence of the incident” that was the subject of the lawsuit, Judge Lockitch ruled. But she added that the reduction in the judgment should not be interpreted as “to any extent granting legitimacy or disregarding the defendant’s behavior toward the plaintiff, which must be completely condemned.”

According to the lawsuit, following a memorial ceremony in 2010 at the teacher’s school in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Yam, the school custodian approached her and asked her in a voice that was loud enough for students to hear: “What do I have coming to me?” and then whispered in her ear that he deserved sexual intercourse with her.

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The teacher complained to the school’s principal and also filed a complaint with the sexual harassment officer at the Kiryat Yam municipality. The custodian was suspended from his job following an investigation and was transferred to another position as a city employee.

The incident was the last in a series of acts of harassment on the custodian’s part, the lawsuit stated, alleging that over a three-year period beginning in 2007, the custodian had harassed the teacher, making sexually suggestive comments to her and asking her questions about sexual relations. He would also press up against her, touch her and suddenly hug her from behind, the teacher alleged. She said that she had asked him to stop, but to no avail.

When the police investigated the incident, which included an arranged confrontation between the two, the custodian denied the allegations, saying that they had a friendly and consensual relationship that included dirty jokes.

The police investigation also involved a woman who worked at the school on behalf of a maintenance firm and alleged that, a short time after she began working there in August 2009, the custodian began harassing her verbally and on one occasion touched her chest and on another her behind. She said she decided in January 2010 to quit as a result of the alleged harassment.

Prior to her resignation, she reported the incidents to the principal and the cleaning company. Following the investigation, the Haifa District prosecutor’s office, which was then headed by Amit Aisman, who is now acting state prosecutor, decided to close the criminal file.

The teacher then filed her civil suit against the custodian, the Education Ministry and the city for compensation. The Education Ministry responded that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the teacher and the custodian had a friendly relationship that included “exchanging crude jokes in Moroccan [Arabic], mutual slaps on the back, etc.” and claimed in part that the statute of limitations had expired on some of the incidents alleged in the suit. The ministry also asserted that “not every disciplinary violation based on intimacy constitutes a crime or injustice in accordance with the sexual harassment law.”

The Kiryat Yam municipality claimed that from the moment it was informed of the teacher’s complaint, it dealt with it appropriately. The judge accepted the city’s position and did not award a judgment against the city.

Kiryat YamCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

Lockitch accepted most of the teacher’s allegations, finding that she had been harassed by the custodian and that the events that she alleged had occurred – even though the teacher did not produce witness testimony regarding the earlier incidents.

The judge ruled that although the teacher didn’t complain to the principal about the earlier incidents, the maintenance worker alerted the principal to the problem. “The principal had knowledge of previous incidents and was also aware of the inappropriate behavior (not necessarily sexual harassment) on [the custodian’s] part toward female students and teachers, but prior to the [teacher’s] complaint concerning the incident from 2010, no disciplinary or other steps were taken against him.”

Such a failure permitted the continued existence of a work environment that enabled the [custodian] to continue with his actions until 2010, the judge ruled. Judge Lockitch found the custodian liable for 70 percent of the 409,407 shekels of the final judgment (after the 10 percent reduction) =and the Education Ministry liable for the remaining 30 percent

“With all the difficulty involved, especially in circumstances in which I was convinced of the existence of the sexual harassment, I believe that contributory fault has to be attributed to the [teacher] to a certain degree albeit moderate,” the judge wrote.

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