The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has rejected an application from a unnamed municipality to dismiss a complaint from a long-term female employee who alleged that she faced sexual harassment and assault by a male member of city council.
The complaint detailed incidents beginning in September 2018, including an unwelcome hug at a staff appreciation event and several personal visits by the councillor to the worker’s office. The situation escalated in February 2019 with an incident in a city hall elevator, where the councillor allegedly pressed his body against her and made an inappropriate remark.
The complainant reported these incidents to the city management and police, leading to an investigation by the city’s assistant director of labour relations. (Local police also conducted an investigation, but Crown counsel decided not to charge the councillor.) Despite findings acknowledging the councillor’s inappropriate behavior and measures to restrict his contact with the worker, she continued to feel unsafe. Her concerns about the city’s and the union’s responses to her situation formed the basis of her human rights complaint.
In May 2019 the worker went on sick leave, concerned about the prospect of contact with the councillor at city hall. In July 2019, WorkSafeBC accepted her claim for a mental disorder relating to the staff appreciation incident, the office visits, and the elevator incident. The city did not dispute her WorkSafeBC claim.
By January 2020, she had completed 12 weeks of intensive trauma based treatment through a medical resiliency centre. At the that time, she was fit to return to work with limitations — though she was not able to return to her pre-injury position in city hall due to the likelihood of encountering the councillor. She has not returned to work and has remained on medical leave. She filed the human rights complaint on Feb. 5, 2020.
The city denied the allegations of discrimination and requested the tribunal to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the issues had been resolved or remedied, and that there was no reasonable prospect of the complaint succeeding. The union also denied discriminating against the worker and requested dismissal.
The tribunal, however, found that the city’s application for dismissal did not meet the necessary thresholds. It acknowledged the seriousness of her allegations, noting the impact of the councillor’s conduct on her work environment and the need for a hearing to determine the city’s responsibility and the adequacy of its response.
Conversely, the tribunal partially granted the Union’s dismissal application, moving forward only with tje allegation that the union was unresponsive to her accommodation concerns related to further encounters with the councillor.
The Tribunal has encouraged the parties to engage in mediation services for a potential resolution, underlining the ongoing complexities in addressing workplace harassment and the need for thorough examination of such serious allegations within the legal framework.
For more information, see Ms. C v. City and others, 2023 BCHRT 203 (CanLII)