Board Defines Sexual Harassment

Bell v. Ladas (1980), 1 C.H.R.R. D/155 (Ont. Bd.Inq.)

The Board of Inquiry dismisses two complaints of sexual harassment filed by Cherie Bell and Anna Korczak against Ernest Ladas, the owner of the Flaming Steer Steak House Inc. in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

The Board of Inquiry finds that sexual harassment of employees by members of management contravenes s. 4 of the Ontario Human Rights Code. An employee is discriminated against because of her sex when an employer exacts some form of sexual compliance in exchange for the maintenance or improvement of financial or other workplace benefits. The evil to be remedied is the utilization of economic power or authority so as to restrict a woman's guaranteed and equal access to the workplace, and all of its benefits, free from extraneous pressures having to do with the mere fact that she is a woman.

The Board of Inquiry finds further that the forms of prohibited conduct that are discriminatory run the gamut from overt gender-based activity, such as coerced intercourse, unsolicited physical contact and persistent propositions, to more subtle conduct, such as gender-based insults and taunting, which may reasonably be perceived to create a negative psychological and emotional work environment. There is no reason why the law, which reaches into the workplace to protect the work environment from physical or chemical pollution or extremes of temperature, ought not to protect employees as well from negative psychological and mental effects where adverse and gender directed conduct emanating from a management hierarchy may reasonably be construed as a condition of employment.

Where an officer has engaged in prohibited conduct, the Board of Inquiry finds that the corporate respondent is liable under the Code.

However, the Board of Inquiry declines to uphold the complaints on their merits. Cherie Bell alleged that Ernest Ladas propositioned her when she came to pick up her first pay cheque, told her she "screwed too much," offered her a "slow screw and a fast screw" when she came to the bar to fetch a drink called a Sloe Screw for a customer, and fired her because she did not comply with the harassment. However, because of inconsistencies in her evidence, the Board of Inquiry prefers the testimony of Ernest Ladas and finds his denial of the harassment credible.

The second complainant, Anna Korczak alleged that Mr. Ladas slapped her "rear end" on more than one occasion, made inquiries about her personal life, and invited her out for drinks and to have sex with him. The Board of Inquiry finds that Ms. Korczak did not discharge the burden of proof to show that these events occurred on a balance of probabilities.

The Board of Inquiry declines to treat the testimony of other women who stated that they were sexually harassed by Ernest Ladas as similar fact evidence. Nor does it treat the evidence of Bell as similar fact evidence in the case of Korczak since the conduct complained of is sufficiently different that it does not create a pattern.

The complaints are dismissed.

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