Are Repeated Compliments Sexual Harassment?

Jan 19, 2016

Despite increased media attention to the issue, sexual harassment and sexual assault continue to occur in the workplace.

In a recent decision, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario addressed the problem of unwanted compliments and touching in a real estate brokerage.

The Case

In Panucci v. Seller’s Choice Stockdale Realty Ltd., the applicant was a self-employed commission salesperson who worked under the supervision of a broker at Stockdale Realty.

The applicant told the Tribunal that the broker, Ronald Stockdale, had persistently complimented her appearance, invited her to drink wine with him, requested hugs for assisting her with work, and caressed her shoulder on one occasion.

While Mr. Stockdale denied the allegations, the Tribunal found that the applicant’s evidence was credible and that even if he was not directly told by the applicant to cease his conduct, he ought to have known that it was unwelcome.

The Tribunal awarded the applicant $15,000 in general damages for injury to her dignity and self-respect.

Lessons from the Case

Significantly, the Tribunal reiterated the principle that human rights legislation may apply to self-employed persons or independent contractors. Even though the applicant was not an employee of Stockdale Realty, there was a breach of the Human Rights Code.

This case further highlights the importance for individuals experiencing stress or other health issues as a result of harassment to seek medical assistance. This may become evidence in a later claim. The Tribunal commented that while the applicant described her health concerns, she presented no evidence about the medical impact of the sexual harassment. Had she done so, the damage award may have been higher.

Finally, the case is important as it further reiterates that there is a power imbalance between supervisors and employees and that employees may not feel able to confront a supervisor engaging in unwanted comments or touching. The fact that the individual does not say no or complain about the behaviour is not sufficient reason to conclude the conduct did not occur or was welcome.

If you would like to speak with an experienced lawyer about sexual harassment or other human rights issues, please contact us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

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