Man ordered to pay co-worker $50,000 after he sexually harassed her at work, and at home, before getting her fired

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An Ontario woman has been awarded $50,000 after being subjected to sexualized comments and harassment in her workplace, and her home, by a co-worker.

The woman, AN, filed the complaint against XL — naming him as a personal respondent as well as her employer, a mining company in a small town in northern Ontario. In February 2015, AN settled the application with the company, but not with XL.

XL did not provide information about his availability to the tribunal, did not respond and did not participate in the hearing — though he did file documents during the initial proceeding to explain his version of events.

Job posting and recruitment

AN testified that XL posted a position for a lab technician for his workplace on a website used by the Chinese Canadian community. When she responded to the ad, he contacted her and helped her get the job.

He reviewed her resume and provided her with the questions, and the answers, for the interview and exam. AN was a new immigrant and wanted to find a job that suited her education — she was a chemistry major and had been working on an assembly line.

XL told her he was in charge of the lab and wanted to hire a Chinese person because it would be easier for him to communicate. She met with the manager of the company, who asked her a few questions about her work visa and permanent resident card, but the main focus of the process was the test of her knowledge. XL, who was also Chinese, did not attend the interview, but it was his job to mark the test.

She was hired, and XL arranged living accommodations in the basement of the home of his colleague. Shortly after, XL moved in to the colleague’s house as well. He then asked AN if he could live downstairs with her. She agreed, and they had separate rooms.

Because XL worked with the landlord, he collected rent from AN and paid it to the landlord. XL would also give AN a ride to Toronto when she went to visit her family, and she would pay him for the cost of the ride each time.

Layoffs and looking for a girlfriend

Soon after AN started working at the company, XL started talking about a possible layoff. He also said he was looking for a girlfriend.

In November 2013, he told her that — as the newest hire — she would likely be let go if there were layoffs. But he told her he would fight to keep her on staff, and even threaten to quit, if they tried to lay her off.

AN, who was married, felt XL had power in the company because it relied on data generated from the lab. She didn’t feel good about his threats, which she thought he was using to make her compliant, and felt she was a hard worker who was unlikely to be laid off.

Sexual advances

AN alleged she was sexually harassed, propositioned and subjected to unwanted touching by XL repeatedly — both in the workplace and at home.

XL told her the company wanted him to find a girlfriend in, on near, the company and that it allowed him to hire someone who was Chinese because he went back to Toronto too frequently. He said they interviewed another candidate who was more suitable, but did not hire her because she had a boyfriend.

In November 2013, AN said XL talked about sexually related topics in their shared kitchen. He said that “women needed sex” and that when he visited other women they would often ask him to stay the night.

Despite her rejections, AN said his behaviour persisted and he touched her face on at least two occasions in the basement apartment. He told her that he “couldn’t control himself.” Things escalated and, in late 2013, he allegedly entered her bedroom and pushed her onto the bed, laid on her and kissed her. She pushed him away, but was distraught.

AN felt she couldn’t report the incident at work because she was afraid of losing her job. She didn’t tell her husband, because he was in China at the time, nor her son who was away at university.

After this incident, XL emailed and apologized for his behaviour — asking for forgiveness and understanding of him. But AN said the behaviour didn’t change. He followed that up with an email stating that he missed her, and she responded by asking him to treat her with respect.

AN said, after she refused his advances, XL gave false feedback about her performance to the manager — including allegations she was sleeping on the job, watching television and leaving early. He recommended that she be laid off, she said.

Termination of employment

AN felt isolated, and did not tell anyone — even her family — about the harassment. She was embarrassed and didn’t want to lose her job or her housing.

AN’s employment was terminated in January 2014. When she asked the manager, he confirmed that XL had complained about her.

“She understood Canada to be a fair place, and didn’t think things like this would happen, but didn’t know how to tell the company,” the tribunal said. She became depressed, went on medication and was referred to a psychologist for treatment.

The ruling

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal said it was clear XL violated AN’s rights under the code.

“He repeatedly engaged in a pattern of vexatious behaviour that he ought reasonably to have known to be unwelcome,” it said. “I find that his comments and conduct were vexatious and amounted to harassment on the basis of sex and sexual solicitation.”

That applied to the behaviour in the workplace as well as at home, it said.

Though evidence showed XL was not her direct supervisor, an agent of the employer and had no role in interviewing or hiring her, he made representations of that effect to her, it said.

“Given her vulnerability as a new immigrant with limited English language ability and her isolation in a remote mining community in northern Ontario, I am pursuaded that she understood (XL’s) role as her supervisor or agent and that he had power over her in the workplace as a man who had been with the company for much longer, and who was involved in marking her examination and assisting in the hiring process,” it said.

AN did not know how to raise XL’s indecent requests with either her landlord or her employer. And when she persistently rejected his advances, he used his power over her in the workplace to have her terminated.

AN sought $50,000 for injury to dignity, feelings and self respect. She also sought compensation for lost wages, but those could not be attributed to XL’s liability with respect to these issues, it said.

It agreed that $50,000 was appropriate, given that the conduct occurred over a period of about three months rather than years — otherwise it could have been higher. XL was ordered to make the payment to her within 60 days.

For more information, see An v. Liu, 2023 HRTO 675 (CanLII)