Sexual Harassment by Boss Leads to Record Human Rights Damages Award

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has awarded a former retail worker $200,000 in damages for sexual harassment, sexual assault and racist discrimination in one of its largest awards to-date: Joe Singer Shoes.

The complainant was an immigrant who spoke English as a second language and single mother to a son with a disability. In addition to working for her harasser, her family rented an apartment from him. Over the course of several years, he repeatedly sexually harassed and assaulted her both at work and in her home, to which he had a key. In addition to this sexual abuse, he subjected her to racist comments about her country of origin. She was permitted to testify remotely to avoid contact with her abuser and was provided the additional protection of anonymization in the Tribunal’s decision, which refers to her by initials.

Damages for Sexual Harassment

The Tribunal considered several factors before deciding to issue this significant award. These included the seriousness of the abuse, and that it was repeated and prolonged, as well as the serious impact of the harassment on the complainant’s mental and emotional health. In addition, the Tribunal considered that the complainant was in a vulnerable position as an immigrant and her family’s sole provider.

The Tribunal has issued just one other decision awarding similar damages to a complainant. In Presteve Foods, the Human Rights Tribunal similarly dealt with an allegation of serious and repeated workplace sexual harassment brought by two immigrant women, who were awarded $150,000 and $50,000 in damages, respectively.

These decisions confirm that workplace sexual harassment persists, and targets Ontario’s most vulnerable workers: women, single mothers, newcomers and migrant workers. It remains to be seen whether these outcomes are the beginning of a new trend of higher awards set to discourage this kind of predatory workplace sexual harassment.

Today, awards of this magnitude are still outliers in the human rights case law. Unfortunately, so far other sexual harassment complainants attempting to rely on Presteve to secure higher damage awards after workplace abuse have been less successful. These awards continue to top-out at general damage awards of $20,000 to $30,000. However, these cases typically include further compensation which was not awarded in Joe Singer. For example, in cases where a complainant has been fired or quit their job, the Tribunal is empowered to award compensation for lost income or lost employment. In addition, perpetrators and the companies that employ them are routinely ordered to take human rights training designed to protect other employees from abuse in the future.

If you have been the victim or workplace sexual harassment, sexual assault or racist discrimination you should contact a human rights lawyer to learn more about your rights and your legal options.

Cases referenced:

(TW: these decisions summarize facts and allegations relating to sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and racism)

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