Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

June 7, 2021

Reading Time: 5 Minutes

City Councillor Accused of Sexual Harassment

Rick Chiarelli, a Councillor in the Cty of Ottawa has been under fire in relation to accusations of sexual harassment. The first accusation was in September of 2019 when a job applicant filed a complaint with the integrity commissioner of Ottawa regarding inappropriate behaviour by Chiarelli. In an interview with CBC, the job applicant described Chiarelli’s inappropriate behaviour; he asked her if she would go braless to certain work events. Six other women came forward with similar testimonies of Chiarelli’s inappropriate conduct, two being previous employees: Angelica Dixon and Victoria Laaber. The other four complainants said Chiarelli had interviewed them for a job: Caitlin Moore, and three who requested to remain anonymous. The misconduct reported dates back to 2014. All the women were in their 20’s, and his inappropriate behaviour consisted of telling stories, showing pictures, and asking questions that were sexual in nature. In October of 2019, two other women filed formal complaints against Chiarelli with the integrity commissioner’s office. Chiarelli has denied all allegations.

The integrity commissioner, Robert Marleau, launched an investigation as a result of the complaints. After a lengthy 10-month investigation, with no cooperation from Chiarelli, the report was released in July of 2020. The report indicated that Chiarelli broke the code of conduct for members of the council.  As a result, Marleau recommended that Chiarelli face the harshest consequence, a 90-day salary suspension for each complaint, leading to a total of nine months of salary, amounting to more than $79,000. 

When CBC asked the women why they decided to come forward about the sexual harassment, all six of them gave two overarching reasons: they wanted the other women to be believed, and so that no other women would experience what they went through. Although Chiarelli faces consequences for his alleged misconduct, there has been no direct compensation for his alleged victims. 

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a well-known occurrence that affects women more predominantly than men. Sexual harassment is often brushed off because many victims believe that nothing can be done to change this age-old behaviour. However, that is a misconception. There are many avenues that attempt to provide justice for victims of sexual harassment, especially workplace harassment. The Human Rights Code of Canada indicates that “every person who is an employee has a right to freedom from harassment in the workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression by his or her employer or agent of the employer or by another employee.” Harassment is defined as “ engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome” Sexual harassment comes in many forms; sexually inappropriate jokes, referencing women in derogatory terms, and even as severe as sexual touching. Although it is recognized that this type of behaviour is wrong, it continues to persist in the workplace. The process to ensure that perpetrators face appropriate consequences is often complicated and difficult to access, however, with the help of legal professional’s justice can be obtained.

Compensation for Sexual Harassment

The first step in dealing with sexual harassment is to report the harassment to management or Human Resources at your job. As in the case of Rick Chiarelli, the women filed a complaint with the integrity commissioner which led to an investigation, resulting in a temporary stop in salary as a result of the alleged misconduct. 

Since sexual harassment is covered under the Human Rights Code, it is dealt with through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, where compensation is rewarded to the victim. You can file a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, where they work to resolve the claim between the parties involved, including the complainant, the employer, and the perpetrator. This avenue tries to provide compensation by ordering the individual or company to pay for lost wages or for medical treatment such as therapy that may have resulted from the harassment. Money is also often awarded for the pain and suffering caused by the loss of dignity. The Tribunal can also order the offender to be removed from the place of work. The Human Rights Tribunal ensures that no matter how powerful the superior, or if management is corrupt, that you will receive compensation for the harm done to you. Sexual harassment will not be tolerated in any workplace.

Further measures can be taken through civil court; a court which deals with the conflict between individuals. Although you cannot sue for sexual harassment in civil court because it is dealt with through the Human Rights Tribunal; it is possible to sue for what is called, constructive dismissal, in any case of harassment. This occurs when a work environment becomes toxic, forcing you to leave. This toxicity can be caused by many things, among them, being, inappropriate sexual comments and jokes or being asked to wear provocative clothing to work events. If constructive dismissal is proven, you can then sue for lost wages and also for extra damages because of the mistreatment.

For example, in a recent case in 2019 the victim, Mrs. Colistro, was an employee for the City of Thunder Bay when her employer, Mr. Tbaytel, rehired an employee who had previously been accused of sexually harassing Mrs. Colistro and others. Mrs.Colistro told Mr.Tbaytel of the previous harassment, however, he still proceeded with the rehire of the employee. This action made a toxic work environment for Mrs. Colistro leading to the development of PTSD and depression which ultimately resulted in her leaving work. Mrs. Colistro sued for constructive dismissal. Although Mrs.Colistro quit her job, it was the employer’s actions related to sexual harassment that made her do so. Therefore, she was rewarded $14,000 for lost wages and another $100,000 for the mistreatment that forced her out of her place of work. 

A roadblock faced in many civil lawsuits, and even Humans Rights complaints, is whether the accused has the money to pay the compensation. Sometimes it is not worth suing an individual because they do not have the money to pay for the damages. However, through vicarious liability, employers can be held accountable for the wrongdoing of their employees. For example, in the lawsuit between Mrs. Colistro and Mr. Tbaytel, the City of Thunder Bay, for which both Mrs. Colistro and Mr. Tbaytel worked, was found liable for the damage done to Mrs.Colistro. Therefore, it is possible that if the accusations brought against an employee are true, such as those brought against Rick Chiarelli, the employer, in this case, the City of Ottawa, could be held liable and would have to pay for part of the compensation.

Law is a complex and, at times, confusing system to navigate, therefore it is advisable to get a lawyer for legal advice. Do not allow the fear of the unknown to stop you from receiving justice. If you are looking to pursue a civil lawsuit or Human Rights case regarding sexual harassment, contact us we have highly qualified lawyers who understand the options in the Canadian legal system and can therefore assist you in your fight for justice.

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