In an unprecedented decision from last May (and worth discussing again), the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (the Tribunal) awarded a migrant worker $150,000 in compensation for injury to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) as a result of sexual harassment and reprisal at the hands of her employer’s principal and owner, Presteve Foods (the Employer).

The migrant worker came to Ontario along with her sister to work under the Federal government’s temporary foreign worker program for low-skill occupations. During their employment, the employer subjected the workers to unwanted sexual solicitations and advances, a sexually poisoned work environment, discrimination in respect of employment (on the basis of sex) and reprisal, threatening to repatriate the workers if they did not comply with his requests. In addition to the workers’ complaints to the Tribunal, the employer was charged criminally, to which he pled or was found guilty of assault.

In finding that the employer violated various sections of the Code and in determining the appropriate amount of compensation, the Tribunal emphasized a migrant worker’s particular vulnerability in the employer-employee relationship; namely, an employer’s ability to repatriate the worker with no chance of appeal or review. This, combined with the Employer’s egregious conduct towards the one migrant worker (which included various instances of sexual assault), warranted an unprecedented compensation award of $150,000. The employer and personal respondent were held jointly and severally liable for the violations of the Code and compensation owing.

Written with the assistance of Nader Hasan, articling student.

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