THE EMPLOYERS' EDGE
#TimesUp for Employer Who Abused his Position of Authority for Almost 30 Years
While the #TimesUp movement may have started with the stars who often wear Louboutins and Manolo Blahniks, a recent HRTO decision in favour of someone who used to sell those shoes is a solid reminder that the same rules apply to everyone – as they should.
Earlier this year, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario released its decision in the case of A.B. v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited, awarding the Applicant – whose name was withheld to prevent her from suffering harm and re-victimization - $200,000 in damages. While not the highest award ever handed down by the HRTO, the fact that these damages are in recognition of sexual harassment and sexual assault is of note.
Although the Respondents in this case were Mr. Singer, his store and another company as landlord, this case was all about the conduct of the personal Respondent, Joe Singer. The decision of Vice-Chair Kershaw described a pattern of sexual harassment and assault spanning almost 30 years, wherein the Respondent used his position as both employer and landlord of the Applicant to take advantage of a female employee. Without recounting the awful details conveyed in the decision, the actions of Mr. Singer resulted in A.B.’s suffering from PTSD, depression and anxiety.
The evidence of the Applicant’s medical issues and the psychological harm described in the Applicant’s testimony was enough to prompt Vice-Chair Kershaw to find that the Applicant was owed $200,000 in damages exclusively for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect. Unlike many Tribunal decisions where such damages form only a (small) part of any “make-whole” remedy, the size and scope of this damage award sends a clear message that sexual harassment – especially from a position of power – will be punished severely.
While this is arguably not a revelation – and certainly in the circumstances seems more than appropriate, employers should nonetheless be cognizant of the harsh penalties that can be enforced when harassment occurs; proper response to, and handling of, harassment complaints are key components in minimizing and mitigating any liability as an employer. The lawyers at CCPartners are here to help you with everything from establishing and administering your anti-harassment Policy to conducting investigations and imposing discipline.
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