Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Boss denies harassment allegation

Woman says customer crude

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She describes herself as a rape survivor and says the sexual harassment she endured at work was so cruel that she felt threatened, forcing her to change her name.

Her ex-boss claims her allegations are false and that she's just after a $5,000 settlement.

What's worse, he says the Manitoba Human Rights Commission investigation into her claim was so one-sided a finding of guilt was made before it finished.

Now, he's using a two-day hearing that started Thursday as a way to clear his and his business's name. The hearing was scheduled after mediation failed.

The woman told the hearing her former employer did not step up to protect her from an abusive customer who frequented the Winnipeg wine- and beer-making supply store, a man who allegedly groped her breasts and made lurid comments about sexually assaulting her.

The Free Press is not naming either party for legal and privacy reasons.

"It was so common and so pervasive," she told adjudicator Robert Dawson. "I told him you don't get to talk to me like that. He laughed it off."

The woman said she was fired from her job of 17 months in May 2010 after she told her boss she was filing a complaint against him for failing to deal with the man's ongoing harassment and failing to provide a safe work environment. Her ex-boss is to testify at the hearing.

Meanwhile, the customer accused of making the vulgar comments and brushing his crotch up against her in a store aisle, denied any such action took place. Before he testifed, the woman left the room saying she didn't want to hear or see him.

"Do you remember things that don't happen?" he asked commission lawyer Isha Khan, adding he barely spoke to the woman when he went into the store.

"I was mad," he said, describing how he responded when he first learned of the allegations against him. "Not only that, my testosterone got up. I was unjustly accused of something. I was very mad."

He also said he found her arrogant and rude when he visited the store so he steered clear of her.

"I don't do crude and vulgar," said the married father of one child.

The woman also told Dawson she had been raped at a sci-fi and fantasy convention and since then has made it a priority to protect herself and others. She said she did not report the sexual assault to police.

"When I tried to report it I couldn't find anyone who'd listen to me to take it seriously," she said.

She also told the hearing she has no regrets about stepping forward.

"There is nothing to be ashamed about," she said. "One in five women (is a) rape survivor.

"Sexual harassment is common in the service industry," she added. "I think it's important to shed light on that."

She also testified that when she complained to her boss he replied that it was a personal matter and should not involve police.

"He always emphasized, 'You are the one who has the problem,' " she told Dawson.

The university student said her employer's lack of response increased her emotional stress.

"There were times when I couldn't legitimately get out of bed," she said.

The store's owner has denied he failed to respond.

"If I was really a mean-spirited person she could have approached my wife who is also involved in the business," he told Dawson.

He also said during the human rights commission's investigation, the investigator seemed to only care more whether the business had an anti-harassment policy.

He said a policy was put in place after the woman laid a complaint.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

THE Manitoba Human Rights Commission says any business, no matter how many employees it has, should have an anti-harassment policy. A sample policy for employers can be found at www.manitobahumanrights.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2013 A6

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