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Workplace Harassment

One day, her boss, Jasper, noticed a tattoo on her wrist depicting two intertwining female symbols. He asked about it and she told him she was gay. He appeared shocked and said that she could not be gay because she was pretty.
 
Soon thereafter Jasper became more inquisitive. He asked Shelly if her partner was hot or sexy and inquired as to the frequency of their sexual encounters. When he asked how lesbians have sex, she told him it was none of his business and that she did not approve of his questions.
 
Jasper mentioned in front of customers that he knew she was a lesbian but that he could still dream. On a number of occasions he introduced her to clients as a lesbian. From time to time he would refer to her as a “crazy bipolar lesbian” or a “bitch”.
 
She heard him explaining away her moods to clients, referring to her as a “bipolar lesbian” and explaining that her mental health was affected because she was gay.
 
One day when no one was in the shop but Jasper, she decided to use the tanning bed in the back and halfway through, feeling as if somebody was watching her, took her goggles off to notice a shadow moving away from the bed.
 
One evening, she and her partner saw Jasper parked in the street in front of her home. When he noticed he had been seen, he left.
 
On another occasion he called her home drunk because he said he wanted to hear her voice. She told him she didn’t want any more after-hour phone calls. After three months of working there and completing her internship, Jasper asked her to go out to dinner with him to celebrate. She made up excuses as to why she could not attend and he told her that if she didn’t show up she was fired.
 
When she did not show up for the dinner there was a banging on her door. Jasper was there  screaming and barged into her apartment. When she told him she would call the police he finally left, screaming obscenities at her referring to her sexual orientation. The last thing he did before departing was to tell her that she was fired and to stay away from the salon.
 
When she showed up at the salon a few days later with her friend to collect her pay and her floor plant, he said he owned the pot, tore the plant out from its roots and threw it at her. She took the remnants of the plant and left the salon.
 
Jasper claimed that when he went to Shelly’s apartment it was she who was hysterical and that he never yelled. He said that when he asked her to dinner he told her she could bring along her partner. He denied all of her allegations and to many of them simply indicated that he couldn’t remember.
 
The adjudicator believed Shelly and found that the discrimination she had suffered based on her gender and sexual orientation caused her emotional and psychological harm. Jasper was ordered to pay Shelly $11,400 in general damages for the violation of her rights. I am tempted to be critical of the small amount awarded in this case but it may be that the adjudicator sensed that this was a small salon and decided there was no point in ordering an amount of money that would never be paid.
 
We hear often that women do not report sexual harassment because they think they will not be believed. I can’t comment on the criminal law context where a physical assault has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt but there were only two witnesses in this case and Shelly was believed.  I see that often.  Perhaps by getting her story out there one more victimized woman might gather the courage that I know it takes to speak out.
 
Finally, lest you think that justice was not done because of the small size of the award made, don’t’ despair. When I googled the actual name of the hair salon, of eight entries on the first page, seven were reports about this case and Jasper’s behaviour. The eighth was a commercial ad for the salon that was marked “CLOSED”. 
 
Ed Canning practices labour and employment law with Ross & McBride LLP, in Hamilton, representing both employers and employees. You can email him at ecanning@rossmcbride.com.
 
Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809
ecanning@rossmcbride.com