Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Alleged victim's story disputed

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A woman at the centre of a workplace sexual-harassment complaint was portrayed Friday as a difficult employee who undermined other workers to get more shifts and who talked openly about her sexual lifestyle when on the job.

It's now up to adjudicator Robert Dawson, a Winnipeg lawyer, to make sense of two days of testimony at a Manitoba Human Rights Commission hearing being held to determine whether the woman's boss did enough to protect her from an abusive customer who allegedly groped her breasts and made lurid comments about sexually assaulting her.

Her boss, who owns a local wine- and beer-making supply store, and the customer, have both denied her allegations.

On Friday, the hearing heard how the woman lived in an open relationship with her fiancé and talked to other employees, and even customers, on topics of a sexual nature.

"The stuff she told me made me uncomfortable," a former male employee said, adding she sometimes initiated flirtatious conversations.

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

However the woman's fiancé of eight years, who currently lives out of the province, said the woman was deeply affected by what happened to her at work, which she has said included an incident where the customer rubbed his crotch against her in a narrow store aisle.

"She was uncomfortable talking about it and I didn't want to press her, so we left it at that," her fiancé said, saying she cried at times and was unable to leave her home.

"There were times she'd just lie in bed motionless," he said.

The fiancé also told commission lawyer Isha Khan he believed after she told her boss what had happened, he did not take appropriate action to correct the atmosphere within the store.

However, other employees told Dawson they had no issue working at the store and didn't witness any of the inappropriate behaviour or comments the women alleged.

"I never had any issues," a former male employee said, adding he asked the boss not to work the same shift as the woman as he believed she wanted to take over his part-time hours.

A female employee, who's worked at the store since June 2007, also said she did not witness any abusive behaviour.

"I never noticed anything go on," she said. "I can't remember much."

The woman, who has described herself as a rape survivor, testified the sexual harassment against her was so cruel and her personal safety was threatened so much she was forced to change her name.

Her ex-boss has claimed she's just after a $5,000 settlement.

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 customer's ongoing harassment and failing to provide a safe work environment.

The woman has also said she had been raped at a local sci-fi and fantasy convention. She did not report the crime to police.

She claimed a number of other women had also been sexually assaulted at the convention, a point disputed by an organizer, who testified that in her time helping run the event no other sexual assaults had been brought to her or other organizers' attention.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2013 A7

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