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Damage awards for sexual harassment/sexual assault on the rise

sexual-harassment-at-workLast month, I wrote about a vulnerable, low paid employee who obtained $150,000 from her former employer by filing a complaint under the Ontario Human Rights Code. This month, I am writing about a vulnerable, low paid employee who obtained $300,000 from her former employer using Ontario’s court system.

Short service employee earning $28,000 a year is awarded $300,000 in damages

The facts

In Silvera v. Olympia Jewellery Corp. (In PDF), a 47 year old administrative employee who earned $ 28 000 a year was sexually harassed/assaulted at work on three occasions. Then she was fired after less than 2 years service because she was unable to work due to pain caused by dental surgery.

As far as the sexual assault is concerned, the women’s supervisor grabbed her breasts on one occasion, grabbed her buttocks on another occasion, and tried to grab her breasts on the third occasion. The supervisor knew the employee had been sexually abused by her step-father when she was a child.
She commenced an action on Ontario’s Superior Court.

The damage award

An Ontario trial judge awarded the employee the following damages for sexual assault and battery:

  • $ 90 000 for general and punitive damages
  • $ 43 000 for future therapy care
  • $ 34 000 for future lost income

The judge also awarded her the following damages for wrongful termination:

  • $ 7 500 for pay in lieu of reasonable notice
  • $ 15 000 for aggravated damages
  • $ 10 000 for punitive damages
  • $ 58 000 for lost income

Furthermore, the judge awarded the employee $ 30 000 for breach of the Human Rights Code. To my knowledge, this is the highest general damage award that a judge has ordered for a violation of the Code. The judge did not however provide any analysis or refer to any other cases when assessing these damages.

The judge also ordered the employer to pay the employee’s daughter $15,000 for loss of care, guidance and companionship under the Family Law Act. To my knowledge, this is the first time a judge has ordered these kind of damages in a wrongful dismissal case.

Will this case be appealed?

It will be interesting to see if this case is appealed. In this regard, it appears that the trial judge in this case may not have exercised the kind of restraint that the Supreme Court of Canada urged in the 2008 Honda Canada Inc. vs. Keays decision where trial judges were cautioned:

The Court must avoid the pitfall of double compensation or double punishment that has been exemplified by this case.” If this case is not appealed, I expect employee lawyers will be claiming additional damages in these kinds of cases in the future.

Lesson to be learned:

Damages for sexual harassment are starting to increase significantly. Every employer should therefore have a written no discrimination policy with a complaint procedure.

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Doug Macleod

Employment and labour lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm
For the past 25 years, Doug MacLeod of the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising and representing employers in connection with employee terminations. If you have any questions, you can contact him at 416 317-9894 or at doug@macleodlawfirm.ca. Read more
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