Human Rights Awards for Sexual Harassment and Assault Get Serious

At the time of the #MeToo movement, examination of available procedures for obtaining remedies for sexual harassment and sexual assault has become particularly important. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario issued a recent decision in G.M. v. X Tattoo Parlour that demonstrates an additional way in which human rights complaints can assist women who are harassed and assaulted.

Customarily, in human rights complaints filed by women who are harassed at work, both the facts and the remedy are decided by a Tribunal.  In the case of G.M., however, the facts were decided by Justice J.M. Grossman of the Ontario Court of Justice in May 2016 in a criminal hearing of charges against the respondent. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruled solely on remedy, awarding G.M. $75,000 as compensation for the injury to her dignity and self-respect.

The complainant in this case, G.M., was fifteen years old. The respondent was a family friend, and G.M.'s mother and the responden's wife were best friends. The respondent opened the X Tattoo Parlour with a loan from G.M.'s parents.

G.M. loved to draw and planned a future as a tattoo artist. She had some struggles in school and at home, but she began to improve her grades and to work as a volunteer. In 2014 G.M. asked the respondent if she could volunteer in the tattoo parlour and train to do tattooing. It was agreed, and she began to volunteer in the summer of 2014.

At the tattoo parlour, the respondent asked her intrusive and embarrassing questions about her gender preference and sexual activities. She tried to avoid these discussions. On August 27, 2014, when she was alone at the tattoo parlour with the respondent, he assaulted her, showed her his penis, inserted his finger in her vagina and put his mouth on her breasts. He also offered her money and a free tattoo in exchange for sex. The respondent pleaded guilty to criminal charges of sexual assault, invitation to sexual touching and sexual interference. The Tribunal accepted the findings of fact made by the court.

As Kasari Govender, Executive Director of West Coast LEAF (Women's Legal Education and Action Fund) pointed out at the recent conference of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies in Whitehorse, Yukon, the benefit to G.M. of the Tribunal's acceptance of the fact-finding from the criminal hearing is that she could seek a human rights remedy, without having to testify one more time about the facts of the assault and sexual interference, in other words, without being re-traumatized. At the human rights hearing, the focus was on G.M. and the harm done to her by the respondent's conduct.

As a result, G.M. says that the Tribunal's award provides justice that she didn't receive through the criminal trial. "It made me feel that for the first time I had achieved something, within this whole case, that didn't leave me extremely disappointed …" (Huffington Post, March 30, 2018).

The Tribunal's decision also provides justice because of the amount of the award. Awards in sexual harassment cases are rising, as they should, to reflect the seriousness of the violation that has occurred. In this case, the Tribunal took into account her age and the serious breach of trust that was involved. Hopefully, the amount also reflects a growing understanding that sexual harassment is no joke.

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CHRR decisions are only available from Canadian Human Rights Reporter Inc.

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