Former tow truck dispatcher awarded $14,000 after tribunal rules she was sexually harassed by co-worker

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A former employee at a towing company in Surrey, B.C., was sexually harassed by her co-worker, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled.

She was awarded a total of $14,000, including $9,000 for pain and suffering and $5,000 for the perpetrator’s willful and reckless conduct. The complaint was against the perpetrator, and not the employer, in this case.

Background

The employee, RD, was 55 and worked as a senior dispatcher at the towing company. Prior to that role, she worked as a 911 operator and dispatcher — and she suffers from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to her years in emergency services, which makes her particularly prone to anxiety and depression.

RD testified that her co-worker, JR, made frequent comments indicating his belief that he was immune to any consequences for his actions due to his seniority. During a 12-hour shift on Nov. 26, 2017, he blocked RD’s access to a vehicle records book, hummed, and made dancing movements. He later made sexually suggestive invitations, which she declined.

At one point he said something along the lines of, “Hey, I really need to get stupid drunk. Want to go do that with me after work at my place?” RD declined, saying she didn’t drink. It was clear, to her, that JR wanted “drunk sex” with her because of the “suggestive grin” on his face and because of hip gyrations he was making.

In the subsequent weeks, JR continued making suggestive remarks and touching RD without her consent. He also solicited sexual history from her, inviting her to go on dates and to come to his residence. Such acts were described by the tribunal as “clearly sexual in nature.”

On Jan. 15, 2018, she was fired from the company. She testified she could not divulge the circumstances of the termination because of confidentiality provisions in her settlement agreement.

Impact on worker

RD stated that the harassment significantly affected her mental health, exacerbating her pre-existing anxiety and depression.

“It knocked my confidence out from under me and affected my ability to sleep and ability to perform at work to the best of my abilities,” she said. “I felt that because I am a single woman that I was fair game and if I did not co-operate then I would suffer the consequences.”

Her treating psychologist, Dr. Jeff Morley, confirmed her diagnosis of chronic PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder, though he did not specifically link these conditions to the harassment.

Legal ramifications

The tribunal concluded that RD was sexually harassed according to the guidelines set by the Federal Court.

“(She) clearly and repeatedly expressed her view to (JR) that she was not interested in pursuing any conversation, physical interaction, or relationship that was sexual in nature,” the ruling stated.

The tribunal also found that his conduct detrimentally impacted her workplace environment.

Remedy

Pain and suffering: RD claimed $10,000 for pain and suffering she experienced due to JR’s actions. The tribunal has the authority to award up to $20,000 for pain and suffering in cases of discrimination under the Canadian Human RIghts Act (CHRA). 53(2)(e).

However, maximum awards are typically reserved for extreme cases. In this case, the tribunal noted that the duration of JR’s harassment spanned less than three months but had a significant impact on RD, particularly given her vulnerability due to pre-existing chronic PTSD.

The tribunal ultimately awarded her $9,000 for pain and suffering, taking into account the emotional and psychological effects of the harassment on her well-being and job performance.

Willful and reckless conduct: RD sought $5,000 in damages for JR’s willful and reckless conduct under CHRA s. 53(3). The tribunal found he engaged in such behavior, leveraging his position of authority over her to engage in unwelcome sexualized behavior and providing negative feedback when his advances were rebuffed.

RD was awarded the full $5,000 she sought under this category.

Wage loss: RD was not seeking damages for wage loss against JR as she had reached the confidential settlement with the company regarding this aspect. Therefore, the tribunal made no award for wage loss.

Interest: The tribunal determined that RD is entitled to simple interest at the average annual bank rate established by the Bank of Canada. The interest accrues from the first date she testified to being sexually harassed by JR and continues until the ordered compensation is paid.

For more information, see Dicks v. Randall, 2023 CHRT 8 (CanLII)

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