Toyota supervisor sacked for ‘benevolent sexism’, FWC says
Employment June 27, 2018 11:15 pm By Christine Caulfield | Melbourne

A Toyota supervisor’s “overly sexualised” remarks to young female workers were a “blatant form of benevolent sexism”, the Fair Work Commission has found in upholding the car maker’s dismissal of the long-time employee.

Employee Homer Abarra, 50, who worked as a group leader at the car maker’s Altona, Victoria plant, “fostered an environment where overly familiar sexualised conduct was encouraged” and Toyota had a valid reason for sacking him, Commissioner¬†Katrina Harper-Greenwell said Wednesday.

“I consider Mr Abarra to have fostered an environment that permitted discussions of an overly personal and sexualised nature to take place and consider that he engaged in such discussions readily with his subordinates without regard to his position as Group Leader,” she said.

“The comments made by Mr Abarra to the young female TFT employees in my view were in fact a rather blatant form of benevolent sexism which has no place in the workplace.”

Abarra was dismissed in June 2016 after working for Toyota for 23 years, lastly as a group leader in the paint shop at the car maker’s Altona site.

In firing Abarra, Toyota said the supervisor had breached its workplace policies and the “Toyota Way” by favouring certain female team members with whom he had had sexual relationships and by engaging in inappropriate behaviour with female workers.

Abarra told one worker she was “flat-chested”, told others they were “gorgeous” and asked one when he could “kiss your lips”.

In siding with Toyota, the commissioner found Abarra had favoured a group of young female employees by providing them with relief from certain jobs on rotation.

He also engaged in inappropriate discussions with the women, “characterised by excessive sexual remarks, personal remarks, and remarks otherwise inconsistent with his position as a supervisor”, she said.

The commissioner, who visited the Altona plant. said Abarra’s invitation to female workers to sit on the arm of his chair while he occupied the seat “would be and was found to be offensive”.

“It is not ‘mutually respectful’ behaviour for a Group Leader to have young female [workers] sitting on his chair with him, neither is it ‘mutually respectful’ behaviour for a Group Leader to have young female [workers] sitting on the arm of the chair or in front of him on the chair whilst he is occupying the chair.” the commissioner said.

“It is simply inconceivable in a workplace in the current era that behaviour of this nature by a Group Leader, who has the responsibility of leading a group of influential young employees regardless of gender, would be condoned.”

The commissioner did not find, however, that Abarra made “advances” towards female workers and gave them “the silent treatment” if they spurned him, as argued by Toyota.

But his dismissal was not harsh, she said, and the “seriousness of the conduct” was not outweighed by Abarra’s mitigating circumstances, which included argument that a 50-year-old was not likely to find a comparable job in a dying industry.

“Mr Abarra was responsible for a group of vulnerable young female employees whose future employment was reliant on his approval. He was responsible for developing and encouraging an environment in which inappropriate behaviour was expected and encouraged and even at the hearing demonstrated a complete lack of remorse or recognition of the seriousness of his conduct. I do not consider that his dismissal was harsh in those circumstances,” the commissioner said.

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Christine Caulfield

Christine Caulfield has been a journalist for 18 years. She was most recently the Co-Managing Editor at US legal news publication Law360. Prior to that she worked as the County Court reporter for The Herald Sun. She is Co-Founder and Editor of Lawyerly.