Review of Ontario Human Rights Damages in 2018: New High Watermarks

2018 marks an exceptional year for developments in the Ontario human rights remedies realm. The following two cases have developed new high watermarks and demonstrate the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario’s (“HRTO”) willingness to considerably increase the quantum of awards.

A.B. v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited et al, 2018 HRTO 107

This case involved an applicant who was particularly vulnerable, as not only a female immigrant from Thailand, but also as a person who had secured her first job and place of residence with the respondent. Therefore, her employer was not only tied to her securement of wages, but also her housing, as her landlord. The applicant also had a child with disabilities, who relied on her for support. The applicant alleged that the personal respondent, her landlord and boss, had repeatedly sexually harassed, solicited, and assaulted her since the early 1990s. The sexual assaults had occurred not only at work, but also in her apartment, and at times in front of her son. This case involved numerous accounts of very serious sexual assault, assault, and sexual harassment incidents. The HRTO found both the company and the owner responsible for the immense harm caused to this applicant, and ordered the respondents to pay $200,000 as compensation for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.

G.M. v. X Tattoo Parlour, 2018 HRTO 201

In this case the applicant was 15 years old when she began volunteering at the tattoo parlour, the corporate respondent. The personal respondent, the owner of the tattoo parlour, was a close friend of the applicant’s parents. The applicant had career aspirations of becoming a tattoo artist and was completing her mandatory volunteer hours at the tattoo parlour. While volunteering at the tattoo parlour, the applicant was subjected to unwanted sexual discussions, sexual assault, and harassment. These incidents resulted in severe negative impact to the applicant, as the personal respondent was a close family friend who she had trusted to a greater degree and she had also lost interest in her career aspirations of becoming a tattoo artist. The personal respondent was criminally charged with: sexual assault, invitation to sexual touching, and sexual interference. He plead guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 9 months in prison. The HRTO was bound by the findings of fact made in the criminal proceeding. At the hearing before the HRTO, the respondents were ordered to pay $75,000 in damages.

These cases are important for employers to (i) be aware of the HRTO’s willingness to increase damages and (ii) in the context of HRTO mediations and potential settlement offers be aware of the increasing expectations applicants may have due to the publicity surrounding these high watermark cases. It is also notable that both cases involved sexual harassment, employers should ensure they have reviewed their harassment policies and provided training to employees and management regarding their respective responsibilities in the workplace to maintain a safe and positive environment.

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