CONCORDIA STUDENT AND EMPLOYEE FILES SEX DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT AGAINST THE UNIVERSITY
Montreal, September 13, 2016 — A female student at Concordia University and former part-time employee at Concordia’s Campus Retail Stores for two and a half years has filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission against the university for gender discrimination and harassment.
In a complaint filed by CRARR on behalf of Felicia (not her real name), the university in its capacity as employer, is blamed for having exposed her to continuous sexual and gender-based harassment, for failing to act with diligence to protect her from harassment at work, and for having terminated her part-time job once she began to complain about discrimination and harassment. CRARR is seeking $45,000 in moral and punitive damages for her.
The harassment began at the onset of Felicia’s third year of employment with the University when she was scheduled to work with a new male employee of the store.
During their employment together, the male colleague continually targeted Felicia in front of clients or when they were working alone together, with derogatory comments that belittled her as a woman. His harassment also took on a sexual nature targeting Felicia’s physical appearance. There was also interrogation about her sexual history and her friend’s virginity, and expletive language aimed at her in the workplace, all of which created a toxic work environment.
Felicia began to dread going to work after this male colleague disregarded her signals of discomfort with his harassment. These interactions over time had an adverse affect on her mental health, self-esteem, and her academic success.
The demeaning treatment persisted until the verbal abuse became physical during an incident in November and Felicia could no longer tolerate the situation.
However, when she notified her supervisor of the workplace harassment, the latter’s reaction was less than satisfactory. The supervisor eventually terminated Felicia on the ground of scheduling difficulty.
At no point did the manager or the University validate Felicia’s experience nor make any attempt to remedy the work climate and put a stop to the harassment. Felicia's attempt to bring the situation to other administration officials’ attention was not met with success. Further, Concordia made no effort to retain Felicia as an employee.
Being given the run-around with the University’s various resources, Felicia contacted Concordia’s HOJO and Legal Information Clinic for help, which referred her to CRARR.
On her behalf, CRARR filed a complaint with the human rights commission in June 2016. At issue is, among other things, the University’s systemic failure to protect her from harassment and to properly handle her complaint in a timely and effective manner, which leads to further erosion of her right to equality, safety and dignity in the workplace.
In addition to financial compensation, CRARR is also asking for systemic remedies through the review of the university’s definition of sexual harassment and through the development and implementation of measures such as mandatory managers’ training aimed at more effectively identifying preventing, correcting and eliminating sexual and gender-based harassment at work.
“I believe in the need for systemic change because no other women should go through what I went through,” Felicia said. “It’s not about having a policy and recourses on paper, but about making them work, and work effectively, to protect women in their job.”
“The case raises important questions in terms of the university’s effective implementation of its policies against gender-based and sexual harassment in employment, especially when it comes to student employees and to managers’ competency in dealing with it,” said CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi.