BC Cruise Ship Worker Awarded Damages Over $33,000 by Human Rights Tribunal Following Sexual Assault

**trigger warning – discussion of sexual assault**

In a decision issued by BC Human Rights Tribunal Member Emily Ohler today, it was held that a cruise ship carpet installer was discriminated against contrary to the BC Human Rights Code when he was sexually assaulted at work by his supervisor.

I’ve had a few people ask me lately about whether sexual assault or sexual harassment constitutes discrimination based on sex. It does! Complainants alleging sexual harassment at the BC Human Rights Tribunal need to prove the following: that the incident was of a sexual nature, that it was unwelcome, and that it detrimentally affected their work environment or led to adverse job-related consequences for them.

As held by the tribunal, the complainant was sexually assaulted by his supervisor while he was asleep in his room before a shift. They worked for a BC-based company installing carpets in cruise ships. During the period in which the assault occurred, the Complainant, the Respondent, and their team were docked in Nicaragua. One day, the Complainant’s roommate was off the ship and the Complainant was excited to be able to push two twin beds together to make a big bed for his nap. He was sleeping and woke to suddenly having the sensation of someone touching his genitals. He then felt the person pull his hand onto their genitals. He realized it was his supervisor. His supervisor had entered his room, got into bed with him, and woke him up with the touching. The supervisor put his head on the Complainant’s shoulder. The Complainant jumped up and left the room. He was stuck on board with his supervisor able to walk freely for the next few days.

This resulted in the Complainant being unable to continue working for the company and being unemployed for around 4 months. As such, he was awarded $8,333 for wage loss. Regarding damages for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect, Tribunal Member Emily Ohler held that the incident fell at the extreme end of the spectrum for this head of damages, since it was a sexual assault by a supervisor. The Complainant was awarded $25,000 damages for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.

The decision was closed with the following at paragraph 45:

As a closing observation, I note that Mr. Ban made the point on various occasions that he was driven to pursue recourse primarily because he views himself as a strong person and recognizes that many other survivors or sexual assault may not be able to endure what the process of pursuing recourse requires. He said that he felt proud of himself for carrying on through the process. In my view, that pride is well earned. It takes courage to file a human rights complaint generally, and more particularly to file one that involves allegations of sexual assault as here. It requires a survivor to revisit a traumatic experience, and to lay that experience out for public view. Male survivors often face a unique stigma that discourages them from coming forward. I acknowledge Mr. Ban’s courage and perseverance.

Tribunal Denounces Use of Prior Sexual History as Consent Defence and Orders Employer pay over $40,000 Damages for Sexually Assaulting House Cleaner

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In reasons released on June 26, 2020, the BC Human Rights Tribunal awarded a woman nearly $45,000 in damages after she was sexually assaulted by a man who employed her for cleaning services in his home.

The events occurred on October 17, 2017. The case turned on whether the Respondent JS’s conduct towards the Complainant MP was unwelcome (their identities were anonymized by the Tribunal). The evidence about both parties was at odds and they were the only witnesses to the events, so JS and MP’s credibility was a major issue in the case. JS was an 87-year-old man who immigrated to Canada as a youth and owned a house where he lived with his wife until her death in 2013 (paragraph 27). He also owned a second home abroad. MP was a middle-aged woman who immigrated to Canada with her husband in 2009 and eventually began working as a house cleaner.

Tribunal Member Emily Ohler stated at paragraph 3 of her decision that at the hearing, she heard extensive evidence about ongoing sexual relations between the parties prior to October 17, 2017. In JS’s response, he asserted that the Complainant MP had consented to sexual contact with him in exchange for money over the course of years. In response to this evidence, the tribunal stated as follows at paragraph 4:

I would like to acknowledge the issues that arise from seeking to defend against sexual assault allegations on the basis of prior sexual history. Evidence of a complainant’s prior sexual history to argue a greater propensity to consent to the encounter at issue is presumptively inadmissible because of its reliance on myths and stereotypes: R. v. Seaboyer; R. v. Gayme, [1991] 2 SCR 577, R. v. Barton, 2019 SCC 33 [Seaboyer].

While Tribunal Member Emily Ohler recognized that the rules of evidence in the named court cases did not apply to the Tribunal, she noted that the myths and stereotypes referred to in those court cases are similar to three myths and strereotypes recently identified by the Tribunal regarding a sexual harassment complaint in The Employee v. The University and another (No. 2), 2020 BCHRT 12. Those myths and stereotypes were as follows, per paragraph 4:

First, a lack of protest. The Tribunal said at para. 178, “[i]t is not necessary for a complainant to expressly object to the conduct and the law recognizes that a person’s behaviour “may be tolerated and yet unwelcome at the same time”: Mahmoodi, para. 141.” Second, a delay in reporting. The Tribunal observed at para. 179, “I acknowledge that non‐reporting is a stereotype that privileges complainants who resist and report immediately. … A person may choose not to report for a variety of reasons including fear of negative job‐related consequences, not being believed, attacks on their reputation, or the difficult nature of the investigations: Hastie.” Third, participation in prior behaviour. At para. 180, the Tribunal rejected an argument suggesting “a pattern of consent”, saying that such evidence does not support “a finding that the Employee welcomed the conduct, that she is less worthy of belief, or that it is unreasonable to know that the conduct would be unwelcome.”

Consent always needs to be obtained on an ongoing basis. Prior consent does not amount to current consent and is no defence for sexual assault.

Ultimately, the Tribunal made the following findings of fact:

a. JS had a friendly relationship with MP and her family. This included periodic visits
to each other’s houses; a handful of outings together; and MP and her family
sometimes turning to JS for favours.

b. Around 2015, JS began touching MP in a sexual way that was unwelcome. At the
same time, he warned her that if she said anything or stopped working for him,
he would tell her Husband and break up her family.

c. One day, in response to this continuing treatment, MP told JS that she would no
longer return to work for him. After a few weeks of MP not attending the House,
JS visited MP’s Husband to tell him that MP had stopped working for him and ask
the Husband to speak with her. MP reasonably viewed this as a signal that JS
would make good on his threats to tell her Husband about what had been going
on. MP returned to work.

d. The unwelcome sexual contact continued. On October 27, 2017, just before JS
left for overseas, he sexually assaulted her. At this time, MP decided she had
enough and told him she would not be returning to work for him.

e. Once JS left for overseas, MP’s Husband noticed her phone logs showed frequent
telephone calls with JS. When he questioned her, she told him the entire story.
MP and her Husband cut off contact with JS.

f. JS’s conduct has had a lasting impact on MP, leaving her depressed and less able
to engage with work and her family life.

According to MP’s evidence, the unwelcome touching started when JS would brush up against her as she was changing the garbage, for example. Then he asked her for hugs and if she said no, he would hug her from behind. Then, when she was changing the sheets on his bed, he would approach her and push or pull her by the waist on the bed and put his legs over hers when she would try to retreat. He would grab her and grope her, tell her to be quiet, and say that he only wanted to “have fun.” She said that he would try to convince her to have sex with him by complaining that his other cleaners in his home abroad would do it (paras 64 to 73).

Around 2015 or 2016, MP took a break from working for JS as a result of the unwelcome sexual contact. She returned after JS’s visit to her husband, as noted above. The sexual contact and JS’s force escalated, with him forcing himself upon her and then giving her extra money afterwards. The Tribunal made the following findings of fact about the October 27, 2017 events at para 112:

On a balance of probabilities, on the whole of the evidence, I find that it is more likely than not that on October 27, 2017, JS pushed MP onto the bed, put his hands under her clothing, and touched her in a sexual way that she did not want. I find that it is more likely than not that JS touched MP’s breasts, put his fingers into her vagina, and put her hand on his penis. I find that after this encounter, MP told JS that she would not return to work for him when he got back from abroad.

As a result of all of this, MP attended counselling and was diagnosed with depression and PTSD. The sexual assaults impacted her marriage, her relationship with her children, and her work. She stopped working, had suicidal ideations, and retreated from her family and community (para 201).

The Tribunal made the following awards:

  1. $4,300 to replace the income MP would have earned from JS but for the discrimination;
  2. $49.98 for antidepressant medication;
  3. $106.50 for MP’s parking expenses to attend the hearing; and
  4. $40,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect

Employee Awarded Over $23,000 for Employer’s Withholding of Work when Jealous of her Sexual Relationships with other Men

Young woman on scaffolding by roof

Tribunal Member Emily Ohler issued her reasons on June 10, 2020 for allowing a woman’s complaint regarding sexist discrimination in employment and retaliation.

The complainant LL had worked for a roof repair company from 2009 to 2017. She and the owner of the company, DM, began a personal, sexual relationship around 2011. Following an eight-day hearing, the Tribunal held that although DM did not exploit LL’s reliance on him for work by making work conditional upon her having sex with him, he did “impose adverse employment-related consequences on LL for issues arising from their personal relationship rather than the employment sphere,” and that LL’s sex was a factor in these consequences. The Tribunal also held that DM retaliated against LL in breach of section 43 of the BC Human Rights Code by texting a link to a pornographic video LL appeared in to her cousin and others.

DM had a wife who did not like LL. At some point, he apparently confided in LL about his unhappiness at home with his wife. And then the relationship between LL and DM began. LL’s evidence was that she never enjoyed having sex with DM or wanted him to leave his wife for her, but went ahead with the relationship because she thought she needed to in order to work for DM. DM’s evidence was that LL was a manipulator who used her sexuality to exploit him for financial and other benefits.

At paragraph 72, the Tribunal stated the following about the facts:

While I accept that LL exercised a high degree of autonomy and independence in her own life as well as in her relationships with the Respondents, as I will discuss further below, it is clear to me that DM understood how to exercise his own kind of control in the relationship when he became jealous or had his feelings hurt. As I will discuss, he did so by not showing up when LL counted on him, reclaiming the cars that he had given her, or – central to this complaint – withholding work.

At paragraphs 134 and 135 of the decision, the Tribunal Member sets out how DM imposed adverse employment-related consequences on LL when he was jealous about her having other men in her life:

[134] I do, however, find that there were occasions on which DM withheld work from LL when he became jealous or his feelings were hurt. On this point, I accept that LL sought to ‘keep DM happy’ in the relationship in part to avoid such repercussions. While it is undisputed that she derived a number of benefits from the personal relationship, I accept that she could not have normal relationships with other men in the way that she wanted to and that the possibility of a
fight with DM impacting her work adversely impacted her.

[135] In particular, on a balance of probabilities, in the context of the evidence of both LL and DM, and LL’s journal entries, I find that on the day of the February 2016 Incident in 2016, and on September 22, 29, and October 22, 2017, DM either did not pick LL up or did not tell her about where to go for work, and that he did this specifically in response to his feeling jealous about other men in LL’s life.

The tribunal stated the following about why these actions were in breach of the Human Rights Code:

[175] I am satisfied that LL has met her burden on a balance of probabilities in establishing that she experienced an adverse impact in her employment related to her sex. In Araniva v. RSY Contracting and another (No. 3), 2019 BCHRT 97 [Araniva], the Tribunal found that an employer’s decision to reduce an employee’s hours of work because the employee declined an invitation to socialize with him constituted a breach of s. 13 on the basis of sex. Here, DM’s jealousy over LL’s sexual relationships with other men cannot be extricated from her sex. DM imposed employment‐related consequences because that was one place where he had power
over LL when his feelings were hurt in their personal relationship.

[181] While I have not found that DM coerced LL into sex with the promise of work, I do find that DM periodically withdrew or withheld work when he became jealous or, in his words, his feelings were hurt, by LL’s standing him up or being with other men. This is, in fact, undisputed. DM explained that he loved LL, and so his feelings would be hurt when LL spurned him by not seeing him or by seeing someone else. DM would deny LL work simply because he stopped speaking to LL entirely during these periods when his feelings were hurt. This is not a defence, but an admission. DM was the boss. If DM’s feelings got hurt because he loved LL, with whom he was in a sexual relationship, it was his responsibility to put those feelings aside and treat LL fairly in the workplace regardless.

After LL filed the complaint, DM sent her cousin a pornographic video that she had appeared in many years ago when she was 19 years old. He knew the video upset her and would bring it up when he was angry at her.

Ultimately, the Trinbunal awarded LL $640 damages for the days it ruled she was denied work due to DM’s jealousy. It also awarded the complainant $15,000 for injury to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect in relation to the discrimination complaint and $7,500 for the retaliation.

The Tribunal stated the following about the retaliation damages:

It takes courage to file a complaint. In particular, LL’s complaint required her to publicize highly private, intimate details about her life. I view DM’s actions, taken in the context of his comments that the video showed people that LL is a “nasty” person, as depending upon and looking to further stereotypes about women generally and sexually active, sex‐positive women in particular. He wielded this as a weapon in response to his anger about LL’s complaint. Such actions must be discouraged.