Case Studies

It’s Never OK.

Your employer must legally address sexual harassment at work. Don’t stay silent about workplace sexual harassment.

If you are an employer, read the cases below to learn how much harassment can cost you and your company.  If you are an employee, review these cases to understand what can happen when you file a complaint.

female constrcution

The Convenience Store Cashier

Ms. K v Deep Creek Store and another, 2021 BCHRT 158

Facts – The complainant worked as a cashier at a convenience store.  The owner would often visit the store during her shift. He would make sexual jokes and tease her about her sex life. He bragged about what he would do with her different body parts. When she told him that she did not appreciate these comments, he offered her money to perform sexual favours. When she declined, he began calling her rude nicknames.  This created a hostile relationship. When male customers would come to the store, he would accuse her of sleeping with them. Eventually, he fired her and she filed a sexual harassment complaint.  Then, he began coming to her home to watch her in the middle of the night.

Analysis – The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal concluded that the complainant had experienced adverse treatment throughout her employment on the basis of her gender.  This behavior began with sexualized comments, and continued with sexual propositions.  

Takeaway – Employers are not allowed to retaliate against employees after hearing that their behaviour makes the employee feel uncomfortable. Here, the tribunal focused on the power dynamics between a young woman employee and middle-aged male boss. 

Remedies – The Tribunal made two awards of monetary compensation to the complainant. For lost wages, the Tribunal awarded $53,916.72. For injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect the Tribunal made an award of $45,000, for a total of approximately $99,000.

The Front Desk Attendant

Wozniak v Oxford Mini Mart & Tip Top Cleaners, 2021 HRTO 216

Facts – The complainant worked as a front desk attendant at a dry cleaning business.  While she served customers, her boss often made inappropriate comments. For example, he would describe how she would look in different outfits. He would try to push different food items in her mouth, insisting that he knew she liked it.  He would discuss what would happen if she was his girlfriend. He also would touch her in unwelcome ways – poking, bumping, and tickling her.

Analysis – The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal found that the employer sexually harassed his employee. TheTribunal, having a separate provision for sexual solicitation, also concluded his actions did not amount to solicitation.

Takeaway – Touching, such as tickling, does not always need to be sexual in nature to be sexual harassment. Unwanted touching accompanied by sexualized comments was enough to establish sexual harassment.

Remedies – The Tribunal ordered the employer to pay the complainant $12,000.00 for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect because of the sexual harassment.

The Executive Assistant

Escobar v WCL Capital Group Inc, 2020 HRTO 388

Facts – The complainant was hired to work as the executive assistant in an office. Shortly after being hired, the employer made her go to lunch with him everyday. Her boss would drink alcohol, and discuss his personal life, including his sexual partners. He also woud comment on her personal appearance and want to talk about her sexual habits. He would refer to her ethnicity when speaking about his sexual preferences.  He sometimes would touch her leg in the restaurant, and massage her shoulders in the office. 

When she made it clear she had an exclusive relationship, his flirting turned to malicious behavior. He changed her position without providing training, gave her too tight deadlines, then made up a reason to fire her.

Analysis – The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal found that the employer harassed his executive assistant by using offensive comments and behavior towards her.  He also spoke about her ancestry or place of origin with comments that were stereotypical, derogatory, or sexual.

Takeaway – Using someone’s race to sexualize them constitutes sexual harassment. Because of the nature of the touching, the Tribunal also found that the employer made sexual advances to the employee.

Remedies – The Tribunal found that the compensation for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect as well as for discrimination and reprisal warranted an award of $50,000.

The Waitress

C.U. v Blencowe, 2013 HRTO 1667 (CanLII), 78 CHRR 34

Facts The complainant worked as a waitress for a hotel restaurant in a resort. The restaurant’s chef would continuously make sexual comments to her.  Because ignoring him wasn’t working, she asked for a transfer to housekeeping duties. He was able to find her in the resort, and continued with inappropriate comments, such as how much he loved certain body parts. Then he began sexting her, and exposing himself to her throughout the resort. 

Although she was afraid of being fired since he was a valuable employee, she went to management.  Her supervisor did nothing to stop the harassment.  The chef began texting her invitations to his home, and driving by her house.  She called the police, who arrested him for criminal harassment and performing an indecent act.

Analysis – The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal found that the complainant was subject to sexual harassment in the workplace, and the conduct of the chef poisoned her work environment. 

Takeaway – This case highlights the vulnerability of the complainant as she was a more junior employee than her harasser. The frequency and severity of the harassment worsened after she complained to her supervisor and nothing was done about it. 

Remedies – The Tribunal awarded compensation for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect in the amount of $30,000. The complainant along with two other individuals also settled privately with the resort.

The Construction Worker

Holmes v Waiward Construction Management Inc, 2021 AHRC 147

Facts – The complainant worked as the only female in a construction crew. Her supervisor would often ask her intimate questions in front of everyone, like did she  f*** her date, or did she ever f*** her boss.   He called her on her days off to say he missed her.  She tried to shut such conversations down politely, but that didn’t work.

After she was passed up for a promotion, she made a complaint to Human Resources (HR).  HR transferred her to a different site on a different schedule.  Then she was fired for a safety violation. She decided to make a Human Rights complaint against her supervisor.  His  counsel argued his crude talk was normal on construction sites.

Analysis The Alberta Human Rights Commission found that the complainant experienced unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature in the workplace. The employer failed to meet its legal obligations to respond to the sexual harassment.  The supervisor’s act of placing her in a more difficult and demanding role with undesirable hours was a punishment for coming forward with her complaints. 

Takeaway – Crude talk in male dominated fields should not be normalized and accepted as appropriate conversation in the workplace. 

Remedies – The Commission found that the appropriate compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and respect was an award of $20,000.

The Hairdresser

Graham v Shear Logic Hairstyling, 2014 CanLII 75502 (NS HRC)

Facts – The complainant got a job as a hair stylist in a hair salon.  The salon owner would talk to her rudely based on her sexual orientation. He would question her about her intimate relationship and tease her about her sexual orientation. At first, she would ignore him or laugh since she was new to the job and didn’t want to jeopardize her employment. 

After several months on the job, the salon owner began to watch her house, and phone her at night. He also invited her to a ‘mandatory’ anniversary dinner with him, saying she would lose her position if she did not go. When she called to say she couldn’t work that day, he drove in a fury to her house and fired her.

Analysis: The Nova Scotia Human Rights Board of inquiry found that the employer’s actions were done to initiate an intimate relationship with his employee. His actions led to her feeling uncomfortable, humiliated, and disgusted for a long time.  The Human Rights Board noted it is against the law in Canada to discriminate based on sexual orientation, including hurtful comments or actions that are known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.  

Takeaway:  Homophobic slurs, and derogatory remarks and innuendo about someone’s sexuality constitutes sexual harassment under human rights law.

Remedies:  The Nova Scotia Human Rights Board considered the economic impact from the complainant losing her job as well as the psychological impact these events had on her family, in particular to her partner who was present when the salon owner came to their apartment.  He was ordered to pay $11,400. She also filed a complaint for severance with the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Division and was awarded $201. 

The Administrator

Davison v. Nova Scotia Construction Safety Assn., 2005 CanLII 94007 (NS HRC)

Facts: The complainant worked in an administrative /coordinator role for an Association. Her boss, the General Manager, enjoyed telling sexual jokes.  One day, she saw a naked woman on his computer screen. He  later printed it for male staff members.  At a staff barbecue, the complainant was taking pictures and he grabbed his crotch, saying, “Take a picture of this.”  He also joked that she should have two chicken breasts, suggesting she needed to increase her breast size. She also reported experiencing unwelcome physical contact from him and witnessing it with several male co-workers.

The complainant notified the Board of Directors of her concerns and that she planned on filing a human rights complaint. The Board considered her complaint to be unfounded. After that, her role at work was diminished.  She was reprimanded and suspended without pay for minor issues. Finally, she was fired.  She filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Human Rights Commission, naming two members of management as well as the Association.

Analysis: The Nova Scotia Board of Inquiry found that the crude comments and sharing of nude images constituted sexual harassment.  Inappropriate behavior at the staff barbecue was considered to have occurred at the workplace. The employer’s retaliation for her filing a complaint caused her severe stress and significant economic loss.

Takeaway: Staff social events outside of the typical confines of the workplace may legally be considered a workplace.  Employers can be held jointly liable for sexual harassment.  Employers cannot retaliate against an employee for filing a human rights complaint.

Remedies:  Total damages awarded to the complainant were $20,000, including for the sexual harassment and the retaliation.  The Association and two managers were held jointly liable for $10,000 and the Association was responsible for the other $10,000. The employer was ordered to have all Board of Directors members take human rights sensitivity training.  A  copy of their sexual harassment policy to the Board of Inquiry was required for review. The Association also was to be monitored for 3 years by the Human Rights Commission.

The Bar Worker

Steeves v. RPK Inc., 2007 CanLII 91861 (NB BHR)

Facts: The complainant worked for a bar. Her supervisor would make inappropriate comments to her.  For example, he said that her breasts were shrinking since she had started an exercise regime.  He asked if she had any hidden tattoos or piercings.  He also commented on the colour of her underwear.  He once touched her inappropriately on or near her buttocks.

She complained to her bar’s owner about these incidents.  Her supervisor was suspended with pay while the employer investigated the complaint. After doing an investigation, the employer reinstated him.  The employer told her he would limit the amount she had to work with him.  This result was not satisfactory to the complainant.  She decided to quit her job and file a complaint with the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission against her former employer.

Analysis: The Board of Inquiry decided that the comments and touching that the complainant experienced was unwelcome and of a sexual nature, which constitutes sexual harassment.

Takeaway: Despite initially suspending the supervisor and investigating, the employer was still held liable, although a large general damage award was not considered.  Employer investigations should be meaningful and respectful of the complainant.    

Remedies: For loss of dignity and self respect, the employer was ordered to pay the former employee $2000.

The Retail Worker

Garland v. Tackaberry (Grape & Grain), 2013 CanLII 21646 (MB HRC)

Facts: The complainant worked at a small retail store.  After a few months on the job, one of the regular customers began making sexual comments about parts of her body. These comments escalated to asking questions about her sex life.  The customer also rubbed himself against her.

She reported these events to the store owner who immediately began an investigation. He spoke with employees and approached the customer about her report. Despite this investigation, the harassment continued and the store owner took no further action. The stress from these events led the complainant to leave her job.

Analysis: The Manitoba Human Rights Commission noted that employers have a duty to take reasonable steps to stop harassment. This includes harassment committed by non-employees. While the court makes note that the employer did promptly respond to his employee’s complaint, he failed to satisfy his duty to stop the harassment once it continued. This inaction allowed the customer to continue harassing his employee.

Takeaway: Employers are obligated to take reasonable steps to stop harassment when they become aware of it. This includes harassment by customers. 

Remedies: The court awarded $7,750 as damages to the former employee for injury, dignity, feelings, or self-respect. The employer was also ordered to complete a workshop on harassment in the workplace.

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If you require legal advice or are concerned about a workplace sexual harassment situation, please call a lawyer. 

Please note: These cases have been adapted from the originals, and some details may be missing.

workplace sexual harassment

Be Aware

All employees, volunteers, students, etc. should be aware of the existence of a respectful anti-sexual harassment policy and the steps in place for resolving complaints. Employers, businesses and institutions not only have legal duties to provide an environment free of sexual harassment, but ignoring these duties could cause permanent damage to reputation and the bottom line.