This past Summer (June 27, 2014), the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal awarded three female employees of a Toronto hair salon amounts exceeding $150,000 for enduring sexual harassment, advances and solicitations, contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Two students and a single mother of three testified at the hearing that salon co-owner, Rocco Valentini , would sit with them at the reception desk, view lingerie and pornographic magazines with them, regularly make sexually inappropriate jokes and remarks, question them about their sex lives, touch their upper thighs under their clothing, and suggest they do sexual favours for money.
While co-owner, Paul Portelli, witnessed the sexually inappropriate conduct of Mr. Valentini, he did nothing about it and in doing so failed to remedy the poisoned workplace environment created by Mr. Valentini.
The sexual conduct was continual throughout the applicants’ employment in 2011 and 2012 until it became so intolerable that all three of the employees quit. One employee, a single mother of three, rescinded her resignation, deciding to give 2 weeks’ notice instead, to allow herself time to find alternative employment. Later that day, she was terminated by salon co-owner, Mr. Portelli, which the Tribunal considered “reprisal” against her for her refusal of Mr. Valentini’s sexual advances and solicitations.
The adjudicator in its decision stated:
“Mr. Valentini made the applicants feel uncomfortable and constantly nervous about how far he might try to go with his sexual harassment, solicitations and advances. When he was in the salon, they were on tenterhooks”
“…in this case, Mr. Valentini was simultaneously expressing his sexual fantasies or desires for the applicants, and treating them like sex objects…”
Mr. Valetini’s conduct towards the applicants constituted sexual harassment, advances and solicitations, contrary to s. 7(2) and 7(3) of the Ontario Human Rights Code. The touching infringed s. 7(3)(a) of the Code since Mr. Valentini was in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the Applicants, conduct he ought reasonably to have known to be unwelcome. Both salon owners were found to be in violation of Section 5(1) in that they created a poisoned work environment for its employees.
The Tribunal found Valenteni and Portelli jointly and severally liable and ordered them to pay two of the Applicants $40,000.00 each as compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect, plus lost wages. The third Applicant was awarded $25,000.00 as compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect, plus lost wages.