Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Woman awaits rights ruling

Ex-boss accused of ignoring abuse

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Is she on a personal crusade against sexual harassment in the workplace?

Or is she just a bitter ex-employee who's after a $9,000 windfall?

Is he an uncaring boss more interested in being chums with a valuable customer than in her well-being?

Or a guy unfairly pinned against the wall by a public agency that she's using to get revenge against him?

It's these questions and more adjudicator Robert Dawson, a Winnipeg lawyer, has to decide in a Manitoba Human Rights Commission case that's the first in the province in which a business owner could be held liable for the actions of a customer. Closing arguments were held Friday. Dawson has 60 days to make his decision, but said he'll make it sooner than that.

On one side is a 26-year-old woman, represented by a commission lawyer, who says when she worked for her boss, she was tormented by a brutish customer who made a series of lurid sexual comments to her, including that she "would be fun to rape."

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

The woman said she repeatedly complained to her boss about the man's comments, but he failed to do anything meaningful to stop it. She filed a complaint to the commission against her employer for failing to take steps to prevent sexual harassment in her workplace under Section 19 of the human rights code. She was subsequently fired from her job of 17 months in May 2010.

She's asking Dawson for a finding in her favour, including $9,000 in general damages, four weeks of lost salary at $9.75 per hour for two shifts a week, and for her ex-boss to attend a seminar on sexual harassment in the workplace.

The woman said as a result of her complaint she's had to legally change her name and has been the victim of a number of "vicious personal attacks, lies and slurs."

"I have not caused the problem," she told Dawson. "Any problem, any conflict, was caused when another person made the conscious and deliberate decision to ignore my humanity in order to abuse and assault me.

"The problems were caused by the people who heard my concerns and ignored them in the interests of keeping the peace, which ignored my peace of mind which had already been shattered," she said.

In his earlier testimony, the customer denied making any abusive comments or deliberately touching the woman.

"All I've ever asked, all I've ever wanted is for people to be safe, for people to be able to work without fear of harassment, for people to be able to freely associate with their peers without the fear of rape and assault," she added. "I hope that's not too much to ask."

Her boss, who along with his wife represented himself at the hearing, told Dawson the woman's claims are "false and over-exaggerated."

He also said the evidence submitted against him by commission lawyer Isha Khan was not credible and the witnesses he called each testified they saw no sexual harassment at his business.

"We would like to see this case dismissed, as it should have been from the beginning," he said. "(The woman) wanted this case to run its course right to the end to satisfy her need for attention, her desire for revenge and her basic financial gain."

He also told Dawson the woman has used the commission and its resources to seek revenge for being fired and has manipulated the case "into a simple case of extortion."

"Seeking justice was never what she wanted, or she could have taken her case to police," he said. "But she didn't because there was no evidence."

He also said she rebuffed any attempt at mediation -- a $5,000 settlement was on the table at one point -- without making any counter-offer.

He said she came to him only once complaining about the customer and that he took action by telling the customer, a friend, to stay away from her.

"(The woman) was terminated for insubordination, plain and simple," he said. "That shouldn't give her the right to abuse the system to further her own ends."

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.

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 23, 2013 B4

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