B.C. store owner who offered to pay employee for sex fined nearly $100K in HRT ruling
The owner of a general store in B.C.'s Interior has been ordered to pay a former employee nearly $100,000 in compensation after a member of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found he had discriminated against her and retaliated when she filed a complaint.
The employee, referred to in tribunal member Amber Prince's decision as "Ms. K," began working for Wooyoung Joung and his company, which does business as Deep Creek General Store, in March 2017, according to the decision.
She and a childhood friend who also worked at the store testified that Joung would make jokes of a sexualized nature in the workplace and ask inappropriate questions about the women's sex lives.
"Ms. K testified that these comments made her uncomfortable," Prince wrote in her Nov. 24 decision.
"However, she initially took these comments as jokes, or a lack of cultural awareness on Mr. Joung’s part."
SEXUAL PROPOSITON AND FIRING
In August 2017, Joung invited Ms. K to have lunch with him. She initially refused, feeling that it was strange to have lunch with her employer, but eventually relented after several more invitations, according to the decision.
While driving back from lunch, Joung offered Ms. K $2,000 to have sex with him, the decision said.
The proposition left the employee "feeling shocked, insulted, disgusted, and sick to her stomach," according to Prince. When Ms. K didn't respond immediately, the decision noted that Joung "got mad" about her lack of response, then said, "I said a bad thing."
Ms. K asked Joung to "drop it and move on," but over the next few months he brought it up repeatedly and became obsessive about his employee and her sex life, acting like a "jealous boyfriend," in Prince's words.
He also began criticizing his employee's performance, cut her hours and accused her of having another job, which she did not, according to the decision.
In late September 2017, Joung presented Ms. K with a termination letter indicating that she was being fired for "insincere work behaviour," having another job that affected her work performance and failing to communicate with him and his family.
"I find that Mr. Joung’s allegations about Ms. K’s work performance, set out in the termination letter, and otherwise alleged, had no basis," Prince wrote in her decision.
"Both Ms. K and (her coworker) testified that Ms. K acted appropriately at work, did not miss shifts, or have another job. Rather, I find that Mr. Joung was angry and uncomfortable that Ms. K did not respond positively to his sexual proposition."
HUMAN RIGHTS COMPLAINT AND RETALIATION
After her firing, Ms. K filed a human rights complaint in early November 2017, alleging that Joung had sexually harassed her.
Joung and his store, with their legal counsel, filed a response to the claim in December 2017. In it, according to the decision, they denied discriminating against Ms. K, and described Joung - a Korean citizen and permanent resident of Canada - as "sometimes confused" by Canadian "cultural norms and practices."
Prince noted in her decision that Joung's counsel withdrew after the response was filed and that Joung and his store had been self-represented in the tribunal proceeding ever since.
"Since being self‐represented, the respondents have, for some time, stopped communicating with the tribunal, and did not participate in the pre‐hearing conference or hearing of this matter," the decision said.
In early 2018, after the complaint and Joung's response had been filed with the tribunal, Ms. K and her sister noticed evidence that someone had trespassed on their family farm, which is located in a remote area, according to the decision.
They set up a surveillance camera, which recorded images of a person holding a bottle on the property around 1 a.m. on an early March morning.
"Ms. K testified that she immediately and definitively identified Mr. Joung as the person in the photo," Prince wrote. "Later in the day Ms. K and (her sister) found the same bottle seen in the picture, with cigarette butts in it on the property."
They contacted police, who contacted Joung, who denied that he had trespassed on the property.
Nevertheless, Prince wrote that she was convinced it was "more likely than not" that Joung was the trespasser.
DECISION AND AWARD
Ms. K filed a second complaint after the trespassing incident, alleging that it was done in retaliation for her filing the first complaint.
Prince concluded in her decision that was "no other reasonable explanation" for Joung's trespassing than to "intimidate and penalize" Ms. K for filing her complaint.
"Without hesitation, and based on the evidence, I find that Ms. K was seriously and negatively impacted when Mr. Joung made sexualized comments to her, propositioned her for sex, made false allegations about her work performance, poisoned her workplace, fired her, and then trespassed at her home in the middle of the night," Prince wrote in her decision.
"I find that Mr. Joung’s cumulative conduct caused short‐term and long‐lasting harm to Ms. K. She increasingly experienced stress, discomfort, anxiety, fear and illness. Her ability to sleep, eat, work, and enjoy her life was impacted," the tribunal member added. "She felt unsafe in her own home."
Prince ordered Joung to pay his former employee $53,916.72 in lost wages, a figure that takes into account the money she would have made between October 2017 and December 2019 if she had continued to work at the store, minus the wages she actually earned from other employment during that time. It also accounts for money she lost between August and October 2017 because of her unfairly reduced hours.
In addition to the lost wage award, Prince awarded Ms. K $35,000 as damages "for injury to her dignity, feelings and self‐respect as a result of the sexual harassment she experienced, including termination of her employment," and another $10,000 as damages for the retaliation she experienced.
In all, Joung and his store must pay Ms. K $98,816.72, plus post-judgment interest until the amount is paid in full.
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