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Chrysler Corp. said it has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court decision ordering it to reinstate a male employee fired for sexual harassment.

The case began when the man was fired for allegedly sexually assaulting a female co-worker. Chrysler said a subsequent investigation showed he had engaged in a pattern of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.An arbitrator, however, ordered the man reinstated, ruling that the sexual assault was not an "extremely serious offense, such as stealing or striking a foreman" and therefore was not "just cause" for discharge. The arbitrator said the offense called for a lesser penalty "aimed at correction."

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago affirmed the arbitrator's decision and rejected Chrysler's argument that to reinstate a known and persistent sexual harasser would violate the public policy against sexual harassment in the workplace.

Chrysler said it believes the appellate decision must be reversed or employers will be severely hampered in combating sexual harassment in the workplace and will be unable to fulfill their obligation to take immediate and appropriate action to combat sexual harass-ment.

The company's position is supported by friend of the court briefs filed by the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Florida Association of Women Lawyers, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Equal Employment Advisory Council.

Chrysler expects the Supreme Court to hear the request at its Sept. 28 conference.