Record damages awarded in Canadian sexual harassment case

Landmark decision to award double the previous record serves as a dire warning to companies failing to protect their employees.

Record damages awarded in Canadian sexual harassment case
A landmark decision from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario shows that the financial risk associated with workplace sexual harassment suits is on the rise after one woman was awarded double the previous Canadian record.

The case

The complainants were two sisters from Mexico who were brought to Canada as temporary foreign workers to work at Presteve Foods Ltd. – an Ontario-based fish processing plant.

The pair had previously agreed to stay at a house operated by the employer, where they would be expected to comply with strict rules including a curfew and restrictions on visitors.

However, upon arriving in Canada, the sisters were subjected to a campaign of aggressive sexual harassment at the hands of a senior employee. The behaviour constituted several sexual assaults upon the older sister and eventually culminated in the deportation of the younger sister after she rejected unwanted advances.

The outcome

Showing support for the siblings, the tribunal awarded the older sister $150,000 in damages and the younger sister $50,000.

“Obviously the facts of this case are extreme and shocking,” concedes one employment lawyer from Stringer LLP. “Nonetheless, this case still involves an award of double the previous record in general damages – $75,000 by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.”

But the older sister’s record-breaking award isn’t the only notable outcome; “Although overshadowed by the larger award, the $50,000 awarded to the younger sister is also significant,” reveals the Stringer lawyer.

That’s because, with the exception of the deportation, the sexual harassment she experienced is more consistent with other sexual harassment cases and yet her award is significantly higher than the expected average.

For employers

“Ultimately, this decision underscores the need for employers to have strong anti-sexual harassment training, policies and monitoring processes,” says the lawyer.  “While in this case the harasser was the principal of the company, making it almost impossible to avoid liability, if such conduct were committed by a lower-level employee, an effective human resources policy could not only help protect the employer against liability, it could identify and address the problem before it escalated.”

Read the full case article by Stringer LLP here.

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