A transgender firefighter from northern Israel won a workplace harassment case and was awarded 75,000 ($20,000) from an employer who has abused her on grounds of her gender identity, a labor court judge cleared for publication on Wednesday.
Sergeant Firefighter Lian Bar Zohar filed a complaint against First Sergeant Major Firefighter Kobi Malka, a shift commander at a northern Israel Fire and Rescue Services station, and demanded compensation from Malka and other colleagues for harassment, and the Fire and Rescue Services for failing to address her previous complaints.
Bar Zohar also sued the Civil Service Commission for failing to protect her from continuous workplace harassment based on her gender identity.
Malka requested to dismiss the allegations and argued that he was convicted of harassment in a disciplinary proceeding and that his behavior does not amount to sexual harassment. The state also requested to dismiss the lawsuit against it, claiming the complaint was properly addressed and treated.
The Haifa District Court acquitted Malka three years ago on one charge and convicted him on other charges leveled at him by Bar Zohar and was sentenced to a reprimand, demotion in rank for a year, suspension from management duties for a year, and transfer from his position for a year.
Bar Zohar claimed she began to feel alienated by Malka about two weeks after starting her position and in her lawsuit, she mentioned 20 incidents she considered to be sexual harassment and mistreatment.
In the complaints, she detailed several cases of sexual harassment by Malka, who, in the presence of two female servicemembers, said: "I see that all the chicks are here." In another instance, he asked whether or not she had removed her male genitals.
Bar Zohar’s complaint was transferred to Civil Service Commission after which Malka was told not to contact her. After less than two years, Bar Zohar left her position at the station due to her experiences there.
According to her claim, the handling of her complaint by the firefighters and the Civil Service Commission was protracted and negligent, forcing her to resign.
The defendants argued that the handling of the complaint was prompt and that she was offered to transfer to another workplace, and therefore requested to dismiss the lawsuit. They also stated that Malka faced disciplinary measures.
Malka denied harassing Bar Zohar and claimed that the lawsuit was filed as vengeance for a command discipline she received from him in the past.
The court accepted only one of 20 complaints filed by Bar Zohar. "We were convinced that the defendants did not act as required, in terms of employee training regarding sexual harassment. We get the impression that the plaintiff experienced disrespectful treatment based on her gender identity.”
“We were not convinced that the [Civil Service Commission] fulfilled its obligation to mitigate the phenomenon of harassment as expected from it,” Labor Court President Liron Schwartz wrote in the verdict.
"After hearing the testimonies and examining the entirety of the evidence presented before us, it is apparent that the defendants, collectively and individually, did not fulfill their obligations in full, regarding the prevention of sexual harassment in accordance with the law,” the sentence read.
Malka was ordered to compensate Bar Zohar with NIS 15,000 ($4,000), and the defendants were ordered to compensate her with an additional NIS 60,000 ($16,000)
Attorney Roni Aloni-Sadovnik, who represents Bar Zohar, said that "Fire and Rescue Services and Civil Service Commissioners must dismiss Kobi Malka. There’s no place for anti-LGBT racists in public service," and even threatened to appeal to the Supreme Court to get force the government to fire him.