Notable Work-Related Sexual Harassment Cases That Reached The Supreme Court
Notable Work-Related Sexual Harassment
(R.A. No. 7877) Cases that Reached the
By Atty. APOLLO XCS SANGALANG (December 23, 2013)
1. Phil. Aeolus Automotive United Corp., et. al. vs. NLRC, et. al. (April 28,
Rosalinda Cortez was a company nurse at Phil. Aeolus Automotive United
Corp. (PAAUC). She was terminated from her employment at PAAUC due to
(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
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
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)
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
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)
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.
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
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
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.
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)
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
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
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
(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.
5. Narvasa vs. Sanchez, Jr. (March 26, 2010)
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
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
Attached is CSC RESOLUTION NO. 01-0940, May 21, 2001 (ADMINISTRATIVE
DISCIPLINARY RULES ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT CASES) for reference.