On average, damages awarded to an employee for a breach of the Human Rights Code, remain relatively low, typically $10,000 to $15,000. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario recognizes that low-value awards for discrimination and harassment create a license to discriminate. Following that message, it recently released two significant decisions that reflect a willingness to award higher amounts. Both decisions involve sexual assault and sexual harassment against women in vulnerable circumstances.
In both cases, the owners of the companies were found to be personally liable along with the corporations.
In A.B. v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited et al, 2018 HRTO 107, the employee worked for Joe Singer for 28 years. In a unique situation, the employer was also her landlord. The allegations made by A.B. were of atrocious conduct. She testified that she was forced to perform oral sex, intercourse, and degrading sexual conduct. Her employer watched pornography in his office and also criticized her skin colour, accent, and body. When she eventually reported the assaults to the police, as her landlord the company applied to the Landlord and Tenant Board to evict her and issued parking tickets to her for parking on private property. Although she had issues with her memory during her testimony, the HRTO still preferred her evidence, and found company and the owner both responsible for the sexual assault and sexual harassment. The HRTO ordered the respondents to pay $200,000 as compensation for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.
Following Joe Singer, the HRTO released G.M. v. X Tattoo Parlour, 2018 HRTO 201. In X Tattoo, the applicant was a 15-year-old woman whose employer engaged in unwanted sexual discussion and forced the applicant to engage in sex acts. The sexual assault, harassment, and gendered discrimination had severely affected this applicant. It increased her anxiety, caused her to engage in self-harm, sent her off track in school and caused her to give up activities that she previously loved. Looking to the Joe Singer decision, the HRTO awarded $75,000 in general damages (the maximum that the applicant had requested).
Lessons for Employees
We all hope that the conduct seen in Joe Singer and X Tattoo would never occur, at work or elsewhere. However, we know that sexual harassment remains commonplace in Ontario. As the bar for the maximum damage awards has increased, we can expect that the average award level will also increase.
These decisions give employees more confidence that the sometimes long, difficult, and emotionally trying legal process to complain about sexual assault and harassment is worthwhile. These decisions, and higher general damage awards in the future, increase the likelihood that employees report incidents and pursue their legal rights.
If you have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment at work, and would like to speak with a lawyer about your rights, please contact us at [email protected] or 1-888-640-1728 (toll-free) or 647-204-8107 (within the GTA).
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