In AB v Joe Singer Shoes Limited, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (“HRTO”) awarded $200,000 to an employee for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect resulting from repeated sexual assault and harassment. This is one of the HRTO’s highest damage awards.
The employee immigrated to Canada from Thailand in 1979 and obtained her first job in Canada working for Joe Singer, since deceased, at Joe Singer Shoes Limited. Joe Singer was the father of Paul Singer, the alleged perpetrator of the sexual assault and harassment. Paul Singer became the employee’s boss after the death of his father. Sometime after the employee and her husband separated in 1989, the employee moved into an apartment above the store where she worked. Her landlord was a company owned by Paul Singer.
The employee alleged that she was repeatedly sexually assaulted and harassed by Paul Singer over the course of several years, both in the store and in her apartment. Also, she alleged that Paul Singer discriminated against her by making fun of her body, accent and English language skills, and by making derogatory comments about her place of origin. Paul Singer denied most, if not all, of the allegations made against him.
The case was a “he said, she said” case and the HRTO had to weigh the credibility of the employee and Paul Singer in assessing their evidence. The HRTO concluded that, despite having memory problems, the preponderance of the evidence points to the employee being credible, and that she had been sexually assaulted and harassed both at work and in her apartment.
Based on its conclusion, the HRTO awarded $200,000 in monetary damages for the employer’s injury to dignity, feeling and self-respect. In awarding this damage award, the HRTO took into account the fact that the employee was in a vulnerable position as a single woman raising a son with disability and an immigrant.
AB v Joe Singer Shoes Limited serves to demonstrate that the courts and administrative tribunals treat sexual harassment and assault perpetrated by employers very seriously. Employees need to be alert to workplace sexual harassment and assault and are strongly encouraged to contact a human rights lawyer for legal advice if they are the victims of such incidents.
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