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Chrysler Appeal of Employee Firing to be Considered

September 22, 1992

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (AP) _ Chrysler Corp. has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether it was justified in firing a man who had fondled a co-worker’s breasts.

The automaker said the high court would decide Monday whether to hear the appeal of a decision ordering Chrysler to reinstate the Wisconsin worker.

Chrysler ″wants the Supreme Court to determine what the national policy is in sexual harassment cases, whether companies should consider them seriously or not,″ automaker spokesman Tom Houston said.

An arbitrator had ruled the incident wasn’t serious enough to fire the worker. An attorney for the worker’s union said the incident was ″stupid″ but not an offense for which someone should be fired.

Ronald Gallenbeck, a forklift group leader at Chrysler’s Marine and Industrial Products facility in Beaver Dam, Wis., was fired in January 1989.

Chrysler said Gallenbeck set down the telephone during a conversation, walked to the woman as she inspected a door panel and reached under her arms to squeeze her breasts. He returned to the telephone and said, ″Yup, they’re real,″ Chrysler said.

Chrysler said it found in investigating the case that Gallenbeck had also harassed other female workers.

Jay Grenig, an arbitrator in Wisconsin, reduced the firing to a 30-day suspension and ordered Gallenbeck reinstated with back pay. Grenig said the harassment was not an ″extremely serious offense, such as stealing or striking a foreman.″

Chrysler said Grenig refused to consider evidence of earlier harassment by Gallenbeck.

The U.S. District Court in Milwaukee and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago both rejected appeals by Chrysler, upholding the arbitrator’s finding.

Gallenbeck’s action was stupid, but firing was too harsh a punishment, said Kenneth Loebel, a Milwaukee attorney representing the Allied Industrial Workers of America Local 793. He said sexual harassment can be fought best through public education programs.

″Organized labor will do what it can to clean up this workplace,″ Loebel said.

Houston said the earlier rulings against Chrysler should be reversed to protect workers against sexual harassment on their jobs.

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