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No, actually, police officer did not sexually harass witness

June 18th, 2015  |  David Stephanides

At a time when the conduct of police officers nationwide is under intense scrutiny, here is a labor arbitration case in which an officer was reinstated to his position following an utterly false claim of sexual harassment. The office in question responded one night to a domestic disturbance and arrested a common law husband. Shortly thereafter, the wife filed a complaint with the local police department alleging that the officer made her feel uncomfortable by touching her arm and thigh while transporting her in his police car to the station. She also contended that he called her several times and twice came to her house, which she interpreted as attempts to begin a romantic relationship (The City of Del Rio, Texas and Grievant, Dec. 8, 2014, Daniel F. Jennings, Arbitrator).

An investigation of the wife’s complaint included a polygraph test administered to the officer, which he apparently failed when asked whether he touched her or lied about it. At the conclusion of the investigation, the employer terminated the officer. He then filed a grievance, contending that his termination violated the collective bargaining agreement.

Given the diametrically opposed interpretations of what occurred — with the wife claiming inappropriate behavior, while the officer contended that he was just doing his job — the decision depended in large part on witness credibility. The arbitrator concluded that the police officer was being truthful, while the wife was not. He determined, based on video footage at the police station, that the officer and the wife were in the car when the alleged touching occurred for only 17 second. Her statement that the touching occurred over a two to three minute period while parked in front of the police station was proved to be impossible. He also determined that the phone calls and visits were consistent with police protocol in domestic violence situations.

The polygraph test presented a different problem. The arbitrator dismissed its validity, noting many arbitral decisions determining that polygraphs lack reliability and use a questionable methodology. He also criticized its use in imposing discipline in this case because the wife was never subjected to the test herself. As a result, the arbitrator sustained the grievance and ordered that the officer be reinstated with full back pay and benefits.