In a decision issued late last month by Adjudicator Mark Hart, O.P.T. and M.P.T. v. Presteve Foods Ltd. and Jose Pratas 2015 HRTO 675, the tribunal concluded that two sisters endured unwanted sexual solicitation, advances and discrimination at the workplace. This decision is an important reminder for employers of a trend of high damages for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect. The decision is 90 pages. Our brief review follows, but as always, we encourage our readers to access the full decision at the link above for additional insight and nuance of the details involved.

What happened?

The two sisters, identified as OPT and MPT, were migrant workers hired by the employer in a fish processing plant. The sisters were hired under a temporary foreign worker program and claimed that the owner of the plant made unwanted sexual advances. The Tribunal described the conduct as “unprecedented”. For example, the Tribunal found that the owner forced OPT to perform fellatio on him on several occasions, and had intercourse with OPT a number of times. The power imbalance of the employment relationship, left OPT feeling that she had no choice but to comply with the plant owners demands. OPT was a single mother and because of her temporary foreign worker status and the employer’s ability to end her employment and status in Canada, she was in a vulnerable.

What was the outcome?

  • General Damages

OPT was awarded $150,000 as compensation for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect (also known as general damages) along with approximately $15,000 in prejudgment interest. This amount is three times greater than what previously had been the highest award awarded by the Tribunal. MPT was awarded $50,000 in general damages along with approximately $5,000 in prejudgment interest.

  • Temporary Foreign Workers program

The employer was ordered to provide any workers hired under the temporary foreign workers program with human rights information and training in the employee’s native language at the time of hire.

What does this mean for employers?

We should not be reading cases like this today. Employers must have an understanding of discrimination and harassment issues, a policy that includes a complaint mechanism and training for all parties of the workplace. Training, communicating and understanding of the policy is for everyone in the workplace. There is no excuse for ignorance or overlooking of the law.