Single mom who was sexually harassed wins B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has awarded more than $30,000 to a female safety officer who alleged she was sexually harassed on a construction site.

In a 76-page ruling, tribunal member Kurt Neuenfeldt wrote that he preferred the evidence of the complainant, Kori Harrison, and her witnesses over the evidence of the respondents’ witnesses.

Neuenfeldt  ordered Navigator Development Corp., its former on-site manager Greg Ford, Nixon Safety Consulting, and Con Forte Contracting Ltd., pay Harrison $14,144 for lost wages. All three companies are based in Calgary.

In addition,  Neuenfeldt ordered the respondents to pay Harrison  $15,000 for an injury to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect, and an additional $3,000 for improper conduct during the hearing.

Harrison was a 27-year-old single mother of three when she was hired in October, 2007 by Nixon Safety Consulting, which provided safety services at a Kelowna condominium project called the Lofts.

According to the ruling, Harrison claimed that Ford offered to trade her truck tires for sexual favours.

Harrison also claimed that Ford told her she could climb the corporate ladder and earn more money if she had sex with him.

In addition, Harrison claimed that Ford viewed pornography on his office computer in her presence.

“She recalled that on each occasion, Mr. Ford stated that ”˜a guy has to get off somehow’,” Neuenfeldt wrote in his decision.

In her testimony, Harrison said she cried at home by the second week of work. Her first complaint of sexual harassment was filed with the site  superintendent, Ron Goodman, on November 4, 2007.

After Harrison later complained to her boss Jason Nixon in December that Ford sexually harassed her, she was fired.

Neuenfeldt ruled that Nixon Safety Consulting fired Harrison at the request of Navigator, and with the tacit approval of Con Forte Contracting Ltd., which performed concrete work on the site.

After she complained, Ford’s lawyer wrote to Harrison warning that her statements were defamatory, according to the decision.

“At the hearing, Ms. Harrison stated that the lawyer’s letter made her feel scared and nervous,” Neuenfeldt wrote. “She felt trapped.”

The respondents claimed that Harrison wore tight pants and loose tops at work, and that she told Ford that she once worked as a stripper. Harrison denied these allegations.

In addition, the respondents claimed that Harrison told Ford and Goodman that she was a “bad girl” who needed a spanking, and that she once lifted her top in the office in front of Goodman—allegations also denied by Harrison.

“I prefer Ms. Harrison’s evidence that she did not invite either Mr. Ford or Mr. Goodman to hit her on the buttocks,” Neuenfeldt wrote. “I do not accept the evidence that she danced around the office ”˜like a stripper’, or lifted her top when she was with Mr. Goodman. In the end, I find the attempts by the respondents to portray Ms. Harrison as someone who deliberately dressed and acted in a sexually provocative manner, and the implicit suggestion that she sexualized the workplace herself, without merit.”

In his testimony, Ford described Harrison as “incompetent, manipulative and annoying”, according to the decision.

Ford also claimed that she sexually harassed him, and that she filed the complaint for financial gain and  to  obtain  revenge in connection with a dispute over business cards. Neuenfeldt rejected these assertions.

In addition, the respondents claimed in their response to the complaint that Harrison “would regularly bend over in short skirts and attempt to ensure that Mr. Goodman and Mr. Ford were paying attention to her actions”.

Under cross-examination, Navigator’s senior project manager Dave Westbrook conceded that this didn’t happen. Neuenfeldt cited this when he imposed the $3,000 penalty on the respondents for "improper conduct" during the hearing.

Neuenfeldt gave Harrison 35 days to make a submission regarding legal costs. He gave the respondents 14 days to respond, and then allowed Harrison an additional seven days after that to counter anything they proposed.

The decision noted that the respondents offered a "with prejudice" settlement earlier in the process, which Harrison declined.

"In their submissions, the parties should address whether the existence of a rejected but significant settlement offer is a relevant consideration when assessing the potential recovery of legal expenses," Neuenfeldt wrote.