Notable Work-Related Sexual Harassment Cases That Reached The Supreme Court


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Republic Act No. 7877, Anti-Sexual Harassment Law.

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Notable Work-Related Sexual Harassment Cases That Reached The Supreme Court

  1. 1. Notable Work-Related Sexual Harassment (R.A. No. 7877) Cases that Reached the Supreme Court By Atty. APOLLO XCS SANGALANG (December 23, 2013) 1. Phil. Aeolus Automotive United Corp., et. al. vs. NLRC, et. al. (April 28, 2000) SOURCE: Summary: Rosalinda Cortez was a company nurse at Phil. Aeolus Automotive United Corp. (PAAUC). She was terminated from her employment at PAAUC due to several reasons: (1) Throwing a stapler at her superior, Plant Manager William Chua; (2) Failing to account for the P1,488 entrusted to her; (3) Asking someone else to punch-in her time card while doing a personal errand for a company officer, Richard Tan; (4) Delaying in the opening of ATM accounts for 9 PAAUC employees. Cortez immediately filed a complaint for illegal dismissal but the Labor Arbiter dismissed her case. On appeal, the NLRC declared her termination as illegal, awarded her backwages and reinstatement, but without damages. On petition to the Supreme Court, the decision of the NLRC was upheld, but instead of reinstatement, the Supreme Court awarded Cortez with 1-month separation pay for every year of service due to strained employment relationship. In addition, the Court awarded her moral and exemplary damages for the anxiety that she gradually suffered in her 4 to 5 years of employment. In affirming the NLRC decision, the Supreme Court said that Cortez was able to satisfactorily explain her side and that her offenses were not grave or serious enough to warrant her dismissal. More importantly, Cortez was able to convince the Court that the charges were orchestrated by her superior, William Chua, who had been sexually harassing her since the time of her first days at work (or about 4 years prior to the date she filed her labor complaint). According to Cortez: “…as early as her first year of employment her Plant Manager, William Chua, already manifested a special liking for her, so much so that she was receiving special treatment from him who would oftentimes invite her "for a date," which she would as often refuse. On many occasions, he would make sexual advances - touching her hands, putting his arms around her shoulders, running his fingers on her arms and telling her she looked beautiful. The special treatment and sexual advances continued during her employment for four (4) years but she never reciprocated his flirtations, until finally, she noticed that his attitude towards her changed. He made her understand that if she would not give in to his sexual advances he would cause her termination from the service; and   1  
  2. 2. he made good his threat when he started harassing her. She just found out one day that her table which was equipped with telephone and intercom units and containing her personal belongings was transferred without her knowledge to a place with neither telephone nor intercom, for which reason, an argument ensued when she confronted William Chua resulting in her being charged with gross disrespect.” In allowing the charge of sexual harassment to prosper despite the lapse of 4 years from its inception, the Supreme Court said: “The gravamen of the offense in sexual harassment is not the violation of the employee's sexuality but the abuse of power by the employer. Any employee, male or female, may rightfully cry "foul" provided the claim is well substantiated. Strictly speaking, there is no time period within which he or she is expected to complain through the proper channels. The time to do so may vary depending upon the needs, circumstances, and more importantly, the emotional threshold of the employee.” x x x [Cortez] “admittedly allowed four (4) years to pass before finally coming out with her employer's sexual impositions. Not many women, especially in this country, are made of the stuff that can endure the agony and trauma of a public, even corporate, scandal. If [PAAUC] had not issued the third memorandum that terminated the services of private respondent, we could only speculate how much longer she would keep her silence. Moreover, few persons are privileged indeed to transfer from one employer to another. The dearth of quality employment has become a daily "monster" roaming the streets that one may not be expected to give up one's employment easily but to hang on to it, so to speak, by all tolerable means. Perhaps, to [Cortez’] mind, for as long as she could outwit her employer's ploys she would continue on her job and consider them as mere occupational hazards. This uneasiness in her place of work thrived in an atmosphere of tolerance for four (4) years, and one could only imagine the prevailing anxiety and resentment, if not bitterness, that beset her all that time. But William Chua faced reality soon enough. Since he had no place in [Cortez’] heart, so must she have no place in his office. So, he provoked her, harassed her, and finally dislodged her; and for finally venting her pent-up anger for years, he "found" the perfect reason to terminate her.” 2. Aquino vs. Acosta (April 2, 2002) SOURCE: Summary: Atty. Susan Aquino was the Chief of the Legal and Technical Staff of the Court of Tax Appeal (CTA). She filed directly with the Supreme Court a sexual harassment complaint against her superior, Honorable Ernesto Acosta, the Presiding Justice of the CTA. The Supreme Court referred the matter to the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation, which in turn, conducted an investigation and submitted a report favorable to Acosta. The Supreme Court adopted the findings of the Court of Appeals, and thus it exonerated Acosta and dismissed the complaint. However, the Supreme Court lauded the effort of Aquino to “seek redress for what she honestly believed to be an affront to her honor” and it also advised   2  
  3. 3. Acosta to be more circumspect in his deportment. He was “warned to refrain from doing similar acts, or any act for that matter on the complainant and other female employees of the Court of Tax Appeals, which in any manner may be interpreted as lustful advances.” In her complaint, Aquino narrated at least 6 attempts, both successful and unsuccessful, of Acosta to embrace and kiss her, but it was only during the 6th and last incident when she forcefully pushed Acosta away and showed him that she is not only uncomfortable, but also repulsed by his behavior. In his comment, Acosta admitted most of the incidents but averred that these happened during festive occasions, that the kisses were merely “besobeso” and the embraces were just his friendly gestures. As regard the 6th and final incident, he admitted that he attempted to give Aquino a valentine’s kiss but she suddenly resisted and started to lose balance. He held her hands only so that she would not fall. He also admitted that he later apologized to her. The Supreme Court said that while the unwelcomed behavior of Acosta made Aquino uncomfortable, it did not constitute sexual harassment because: (1) There is no showing that Acosta demanded, requested or required any sexual favor from Aquino in exchange for “favorable compensation, terms, conditions, promotion or privileges”; (2) Acosta committed casual gestures of friendship and camaraderie, nothing more, nothing less. In kissing Aquino, there is no indication that Acosta was motivated by malice or lewd design. A mere casual buss on the cheek (in a “beso-beso” fashion) is not a sexual conduct or favor and does not fall within the purview of sexual harassment under R.A. No. 7877. Moreover, “it was clear from the circumstances that most of the kissing incidents were done on festive and special occasions,” and they “took place in the presence of other people and the same was by reason of the exaltation or happiness of the moment.” (3) Aquino misunderstood Acosta’s actuations and construed them as work-related sexual harassment under R.A. No. 7877. Aquino was not singled-out by Acosta. Neither did she suffer from any work-related discrimination. Nor did such gestures of Acosta created a hostile or intimidating working environment for her. 3. Digitel Telecommunications Phils. Inc. et. al. vs. Soriano (June 26, 2006) SOURCE: tm Summary: Mariquit Soriano was employed as Director for Marketing and Communications of Digitel Telecommunications Phils. Inc. (Digitel). She resigned about 2 years later, submitting a resignation letter and a duly signed quitclaim. About 1 year after her resignation, she filed criminal charges for sexual harassment and acts of lasciviousness against her 2 superiors, SEVP Johnson Robert Go and SVP Eric Severino. And 6 months thereafter, Soriano also filed an illegal dismissal case against Digitel, Go and Severino on the ground of professional and sexual harassment leading to her constructive dismissal.   3  
  4. 4. The City Prosecutor initially dismissed Soriano’s criminal complaints, but on motion for reconsideration, Go was indicted but only for acts of lasciviousness. On appeal to the Department of Justice however, the resolution of the City Prosecutor was reversed and all criminal complaints against Go and Severino were dismissed for lack of probable cause. As regard the labor case, both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC (on appeal) dismissed Soriano’s complaint for lack of substantial evidence to support her allegations. However, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Soriano and directed Digitel, Go and Severino to jointly and severally pay her backwages and 1-month separation pay for every year of service in lieu of reinstatement (due to strained employment relationship) plus moral and exemplary damages and attorney’s fees. The Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC, and reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeals, citing the decision of the Department of Justice as one of its basis. In dismissing Soriano’s sexual harassment and illegal dismissal allegations, the Supreme Court held that: (1) Unexplained Delay: Unlike Rosalinda Cortez in the case of Phil. Aeolus vs. NLRC, Soriano did not immediately file a sexual harassment case. Nor did she advance any reason for her delay. It took her around 1 year to file the criminal case, and 1 and a half year to file the labor case; (2) Lack of Credibility: The “only test of whether an alleged fact or circumstance is worthy of credence is the common experience, knowledge and observation of ordinary men”, and Soriano’s narration of facts did not pass this test of credibility. Unlike Cortez who was a rank-and-file company nurse, Soriano was a highly-paid company executive, well-educated and a product of prestigious schools, assertive, and already in her late forties. Thus, the Supreme Court couldn’t understand why, if her allegations were true, she failed to raise an issue about it at the soonest possible opportunity considering the gravity of some of her charges (i.e. she alleged that, while seated at a sofa, Go sat beside her, crept his hand under a throw pillow and “poked” her vagina several times during a party attended by at least 60 guests who were all crammed inside the living room and covered lanai of a residential house because it rained); (3) Cordiality: Soriano’s resignation letter, which was addressed to Severino, was cordial, and she even thanked him (in the said letter) for the opportunity of working with him. Such cordiality is deemed inconsistent with her narration of facts. (4) Desire to be Re-Employed: Soriano admitted that she attempted to withdraw her resignation letter, and thus in effect, offered to continue working with Go and Severino, her alleged sexual harassers. Such desire to be re-employed is likewise deemed inconsistent with her narration of facts. (5) Presumption of Voluntariness: The burden of proof is upon the employee who resigned and thereafter alleged that she was constructively dismissed. Soriano failed to present substantial evidence to support her allegations that her resignation is not   4  
  5. 5. voluntary and thus illegal. Resignation is presumed to be voluntary until shown otherwise. (6) Finality of Findings of Labor Tribunals: Soriano also bears the burden of showing to the Court of Appeals that both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC gravely abused their discretion in ruling against her labor complaint. She failed to discharge this burden. Thus, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. Recent Development: On February 8, 2011, Soriano filed her Communication to the United Nations - Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee alleging violation by the Philippine Supreme Court itself of her right not to be discriminated against by reason of her gender. The Supreme Court essentially rejected her claims as unbelievable when compared to their understanding of ‘human experience’. Her communication to the CEDAW Committee assails this Supreme Court judgment as discriminatory on account of her gender, contrary to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, wherein the Philippines is a signatory. The complaints against Johnson Robert Go for acts of lasciviousness and sexual harassment were dropped following his death in December 2004. 4. Domingo vs. Rayala (February 18, 2008) SOURCE: Summary: Ma. Lourdes Domingo was a Stenographer III at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). She filed with the Office of the Secretary of Labor of Employment a sexual harassment case against Rogelio Rayala, then Chairman of NLRC. The DOLE referred the matter to the Office of President (because Rayala was a presidential appointee), which authorized the DOLE to investigate the matter. Thus, the DOLE formed a Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CoDI) in accordance with RA No. 7877, which directly investigated the incident. The CoDI heard the case and then reported to DOLE that it found Rayala guilty as charged and recommended that he be penalized with 6 months suspension. The DOLE adopted the CoDI’s report and recommendation, and then forwarded it to the Office of the President. The Office of the President adopted the findings of CoDI and DOLE, but it imposed against Rayala the penalty of dismissal from the service. On petition by Rayala, the Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the Office of the President, but on motion for reconsideration, it reduced the penalty to suspension of 1 year. The Supreme Court affirmed the common and unanimous findings of the CoDI, DOLE, Office of the President, and Court of Appeals, and that is, that Rayala is guilty of the administrative charge of sexual harassment. The only real   5  
  6. 6. issue before it was the appropriate penalty. Thus, it affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals imposing upon Rayala the appropriate penalty of 1 year suspension. The Supreme Court said that Rayala was indeed administratively liable for sexual harassment because of the following reasons: (1) The findings of administrative tribunals, when supported by substantial evidence, are binding on the Court; (2) The Supreme Court exercises its power of judicial review when there is grave abuse of discretion. Rayala failed to show that the Court of Appeals gravely abused its discretion in affirming the findings of the Office of the President; (3) The case of Aquino vs. Acosta doesn’t apply to the case of Rayala. The Supreme Court said: “It is true that this provision [Section 3 of R.A. No. 7877] calls for a “demand, request or requirement of a sexual favor.” But it is not necessary that the demand, request or requirement of a sexual favor be articulated in a categorical oral or written statement. It may be discerned, with equal certitude, from the acts of the offender. Holding and squeezing Domingo’s shoulders, running his fingers across her neck and tickling her ear, having inappropriate conversations with her, giving her money allegedly for school expenses with a promise of future privileges, and making statements with unmistakable sexual overtones – all these acts of Rayala resound with deafening clarity the unspoken request for a sexual favor.” (4) The Supreme Court further held that: “Likewise, contrary to Rayala’s claim, it is not essential that the demand, request or requirement be made as a condition for continued employment or for promotion to a higher position. It is enough that the respondent’s acts result in creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for the employee. That the acts of Rayala generated an intimidating and hostile environment for Domingo is clearly shown by the common factual finding of the [CoDI], the [Office of the President] and the [Court of Appeals] that Domingo reported the matter to an officemate and, after the last incident, filed for a leave of absence and requested transfer to another unit.” (5) “While in [the case of Aquino vs. Acosta], the [Supreme Court] interpreted the acts [Acosta] as casual gestures of friendship and camaraderie, done during festive or special occasions and with other people present, in the instant case, Rayala’s acts of holding and squeezing Domingo’s shoulders, running his fingers across her neck and tickling her ear, and the inappropriate comments, were all made in the confines of Rayala’s office when no other members of his staff were around. More importantly, and a circumstance absent in [Aquino vs. Acosta], Rayala’s acts, as already adverted to above, produced a hostile work environment for Domingo, as shown by her having reported the matter to an officemate and, after the last incident, filing for a leave of absence and requesting transfer to another unit.” (6) Finally, the Supreme Court held that: The element of intent, or whether or not Rayala’s acts were done with malice, is immaterial in an administrative case for sexual harassment.   6  
  7. 7. 5. Narvasa vs. Sanchez, Jr. (March 26, 2010) SOURCE: Summary: Teresita Narvasa was a Senior Bookkeeper while Benjamin Sanchez Jr. was a Municipal Assessor. They were both employees of the Municipality of Diadi, Nueva Vizcaya (LGU). Narvasa filed a sexual harassment case against Sanchez. Two other employees of the LGU, namely: Mary Gay de la Cruz and Zenaida Gayaton, also filed separate cases of sexual harassment against Sanchez. Based on the investigation conducted by the CoDI, the Municipal Mayor found Sanchez guilty of all three charges. For the offenses committed against De la Cruz and Gayaton, he was meted the penalties of reprimand (for his first offense of light harassment) and 30 days suspension (for his first offense of less grave sexual harassment). His transgression against Narvasa, however, was deemed to be an act of grave sexual harassment for which he was dismissed from the government service. Insofar as Narvasa was concerned, she asserted in her Complaint that during a field trip of officers and members of the St. Joseph Multi-Purpose Cooperative to the Grotto Vista Resort in Bulacan, Sanchez pulled her towards him and attempted to kiss her. Narvasa resisted and was able to escape the clutches of Sanchez to rejoin the group that they were travelling with. Sanchez apologized to Narvasa thrice regarding that incident. Sanchez appealed his termination to the Civil Service Commission (CSC), but it dismissed his appeal. The CSC however modified the Mayor’s order by holding him guilty of grave misconduct instead of grave sexual harassment. Grave misconduct carries the same penalty, which is dismissal from the service; thus, Sanchez elevated his case to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals partially granted his appeal. It modified the CSC resolution, and found Sanchez to be guilty of only simple misconduct. Accordingly, the penalty was lowered to suspension for one month and one day. Thus, Narvasa appealed to the Supreme Court. The issue was: Whether the act committed by Sanchez against Narvasa constitutes simple misconduct or grave misconduct? The Supreme Court held that Sanchez is guilty of grave misconduct, reversed the Court of Appeals, and upheld the CSC order dismissing him from the service with forfeiture of retirement benefits except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned and controlled corporations. The Supreme Court apparently took cognizance of the 2 other cases of sexual harassment filed against Sanchez, for which he was held liable with finality. According to the Supreme Court: His acts of grabbing Narvasa and   7  
  8. 8. attempting to kiss her were, no doubt, intentional. Worse, the incident occurred months after he had made similar but subtler overtures to De la Cruz, who made it clear that his sexual advances were not welcome. Considering that the acts Sanchez committed against Narvasa were much more aggressive, it was impossible that the offensive nature of his actions could have escaped him. It does not appear that Sanchez and Narvasa were carrying on an amorous relationship that might have justified his attempt to kiss her while they were separated from their companions. Worse, as Narvasa and Sanchez were both married (to other persons), he not only took his marital status lightly, he also ignored her married state, and good character and reputation. The Supreme Court continued: “His act of grabbing [Narvasa] and attempting to kiss her without her consent was an unmistakable manifestation of his intention to violate laws that specifically prohibited sexual harassment in the work environment. Assuming arguendo that [Sanchez] never intended to violate RA 7877, his attempt to kiss [her] was a flagrant disregard of a customary rule that had existed since time immemorial – that intimate physical contact between individuals must be consensual. [His] defiance of custom and lack of respect for the opposite sex were more appalling because he was a married man. [His] act showed a low regard for women and disrespect for [Narvasa’s] honor and dignity.” x x x “Furthermore, we note that this is the third time that [Sanchez] is being penalized for acts of sexual harassment. We are also alarmed by the increasing boldness in the way [he] displayed his unwelcome affection for the women of his fancy. He is a perverted predator preying on his female colleagues and subordinates. Sanchez’s continued misbehavior cannot, therefore, be allowed to go unchecked.” Attached is CSC RESOLUTION NO. 01-0940, May 21, 2001 (ADMINISTRATIVE DISCIPLINARY RULES ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT CASES) for reference.   8