In May 2015, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario issued an unprecedented decision when it awarded two temporary foreign workers over $200,000 in damages for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect resulting from discrimination in employment.
The case, O.P.T. v. Presteve Foods Ltd. (PDF), involved two female temporary foreign workers – O.P.T. and M.P.T. The two workers came to Ontario from Mexico to work for Presteve Foods Ltd. (“Presteve”) at a fish processing plant. O.P.T. and M.P.T. alleged that during the course of their employment, the owner and principal of Presteve, Jose Pratas, subjected them to unwanted sexual solicitations and advances (including sexual assaults and touching), a sexually poisoned work environment and discrimination in respect of employment because of sex.
M.P.T. alleged that Mr. Pratas grabbed her on multiple occasions, touched her inappropriately and sexually propositioned her. She further alleged that when Mr. Pratas was driving her to a doctor’s office, he asked her to have sex with him and touched her inappropriately.
The allegations raised by O.P.T. were even more egregious. She alleged that Mr. Pratas forced her to go to dinner with him alone on several occasions. While in the car on the way to dinner, Mr. Pratas touched her inappropriately, forced her to put her hands into his pants, and kissed her without consent. O.P.T. further alleged that on multiple occasions Mr. Pratas demanded that she perform fellatio on him and threatened to send her back to Mexico if she did not comply. Finally, O.P.T. alleged that Mr. Pratas forced her to have sex with him three times. For fear of losing her job, O.P.T. complied with Mr. Pratas’ demands.
After hearing extensive evidence, the Tribunal concluded that Mr. Pratas had engaged in a persistent and ongoing pattern of sexual solicitation and sexual harassment towards O.P.T. and M.P.T. during their period of employment with Presteve. As owner and principal of Presteve, Mr. Pratas was a person in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to both women and he used that power by threatening to send them back to Mexico if they refused his advances. The Tribunal further concluded that Mr. Pratas knew or ought reasonably to have known that these sexual solicitations and advances were unwelcome. Thus, his conduct constituted sexual harassment for the purposes of the Human Rights Code (the “Code“) and it created a sexually poisoned work environment.