In the recent case, E.T. v. Dress Code Express Inc., the applicant was only 14 years old at the time she began to work for the respondent, Dress Code Express. The application was submitted by way of a litigation guardian. [i]
The application alleged discrimination based on numerous grounds such as race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origins, sex, and association contrary to the Human Rights Code.
The hearing took place on March 8, 2017 with the applicant in attendance, but without the respondent in attendance. The majority of the complaints related to her male manager, Bunty Islam, a man in his sixties. The applicant, based on her witness statement, gave uncontested testimony. During her testimony, the applicant recounted several incidents that she believed to be Code breaches. They included situations where the respondent made unwelcome comments about the applicant’s body, being coerced into giving the respondent a back rub, and being asked whether she was a virgin.
In addition, there was behaviour that although did not relate to the applicant directly, contributed to a poisoned work environment, such as the manner in which the respondent referred to blacks as “Niggers.” The applicant used this word on numerous occasions and told the applicant that blacks could not be trusted and to watch them more carefully than others when they were in the clothing store where he and the applicant worked. Although the respondent was informed that the applicant found this behaviour to be inappropriate, nonetheless, the respondent’s attitudes persisted. [ii]
The applicant eventually left the employment when the respondent indicated that he could no longer afford to pay her.
These incidents were reported to the applicant’s health care professionals who encouraged her to take some sort of action. The Code identifies “harassment” as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”
In the Tribunal’s decision, the member stated the following:
…I find that the applicant experienced discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex in the various comments and other actions of Bunty Islam described above. Although the applicant does not appear to have complained about this aspect of Bunty Islam’s misconduct, no reasonable person would understand such behaviour as being reasonable and welcomed in the workplace. [iii]
The member continued that the discriminatory treatment, sexual harassment, and racial harassment contributed to a poisoned work environment.
Of interest is the fact the “Code” captures conduct or behaviour on the part of the respondents not necessarily aimed at the applicant. The fact is that an employee who has witnessed “Code” related breaches is also protected by the “Code.”
Further, that a minor may enforce the “Code,” with the assistance of a litigation guardian.
The applicant among other remedies was awarded $15,000.00 in compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.
For employers, regardless of the age of the employee, chances are they are covered by the “Code,” and their rights may be enforced if not by the employee, then by a litigation guardian. Age as well as the other protected grounds, is not an excuse or invitation for abuse.
[i] E.T. v. Dress Code Express Inc.2017 HRTO 595
[ii] Ibid. para. 26
[iii] Ibid. para. 37
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