Ontario Human Rights Award Reaches $200K
The laws and policies dealing with harassment and in particular sexual harassment have been in place for decades in Canada, yet the problem persists in all too many workplaces. I have been researching cases and awards for some time and this is the highest award I have seen out of Human Rights. In my view, awards of $10,000.00 or less (what I typically see) are not sufficiently preventative to remedy this horrendous behaviour.
This case involves the hiring of temporary foreign workers to a workplace in Canada at a processing plant. Two complainants came to Canada from Mexico and were subjected to sexual harassment and assault. The complainants detailed numerous instances of unwanted physical contact and sexual comments, all with the threat from the respondent that if they did not comply, he would send them back to Mexico.
Specifically, the respondent in this case was the owner of the processing plant and he began taking one of the complainants to dinner, even though she did not want to go. He insisted and became angry when she tried to refuse and even resorted to threatening her with being sent home. His practice was to house a number of the temporary foreign workers in a house he owned, several to a room, with strict rules like a 10 pm curfew. He also took their passports and all visa related paperwork when they arrived and made them sign papers to authorize such (in English which they did not understand). During one of these dinner incidents, the respondent put his hand on the complainant’s leg and moved it up to her vagina while driving. His behaviours escalated to sexual assault and assault on numerous occasions. The complainant testified that she felt she had no choice but to comply due to the respondent’s constant threats.
The second complainant detailed similar incidents with the respondent, including that he kept asking for sex and telling her that sex with him would cure her physical symptoms when he was driving her to the doctor. The respondent insisted that he was the only person who could drive the workers to the doctor and he had the paperwork they required to access health care in Canada. The respondent sent the second complainant home after threatening her during an incident when he ordered her not to leave the house and she did. She refused to apologize to him and he sent her home.
The first complainant returned to Mexico after a series of assaults. The respondent continued to attempt contact with her by telephone, told her that he loved her and that he wanted to come visit her and her children in Mexico.
The two complainants spoke to the local police and reported the assaults and charges were laid against the respondent. He pled guilty to a lesser offence and never admitted any sexual wrongdoing, rather pled to assault charges.
The two claimants filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario along with dozens of others. The other complainants resolved their complaints before the hearing and the two complainants were the only remaining actions pending.
The Arbitrator considered a significant amount of information including the evidence submitted in other legal venues and the testimony of those involved. The respondent did not provide any evidence. After a lengthy review of the evidence and the case law, the Arbitrator awarded the first complainant $150,000.00 plus interest and the second complainant $50,000.00 plus interest for injury to their dignity, feelings and self-respect. This represents a significant increase in award amount that I have become aware of and, I think, signals a more punitive approach to the horrendous behaviours exhibited by some.