'The Secret' is OK, hugs are not: B.C. rights tribunal
Published Friday, February 25, 2011 7:56PM PST
The Secret is not a religion, but hugging employees to dispel bad energy counts as sexual harassment, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ruled after hearing a complaint from a girl named Algebra.
Clint Petres has been ordered to pay former employees Algebra and Aja Young a total of $10,000 for dispensing unwanted hugs to the sisters when they worked at his MiniMelts ice cream stand in 2008.
Algebra, who was 19 at the time, testified that Petres hugged her and her 13-year-old sister once or twice a week to purify the cart and clear it of bad energy. The hugs lasted up to 10 seconds, and sometimes he would rock the girls back and forth during the embraces.
Algebra said that if she tried to avoid the hugs, Petres would stand with his arms wide open until she gave in.
"I find that Mr. Petres' conduct was sexual in nature, that he knew it was unwelcome, and that it detrimentally affected the complainants' work environment," tribunal member Barbara Humphreys wrote in the decision granting compensation to the Youngs.
In a hearing that featured testimony from a man named Luke Skywalker, the two young women also complained that Petres tried to impose his religious views on them. The sisters are both atheists, and claimed that Petres espoused a "slurry" of religious beliefs, including Reiki, Taoism and Shintoism, best summed up in the Oprah Winfrey-endorsed self-help book The Secret.
The book, which asserts that anyone can achieve their goals through positive thinking, was on display at the ice-cream cart at all times. Petres admitted that he discussed the so-called "law of attraction" with his employees but denied being a follower of Shintoism or Taoism.
A cross and several crystals were also arranged in a specific pattern on the cart to create the right "energy flow," and Petres told his employees not to use negative phrases like "no problem or "my mistake."
Humphreys ruled that The Secret does not qualify as a religion under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and therefore the Youngs were not discriminated against.
"This belief is not a particular and comprehensive system of faith and worship," she wrote.
But even if it were a religion, Petres was within his rights to discuss it in the workplace.
"While listening to him was perhaps annoying for the complainants, it cannot be said that it was such an interference with their atheistic beliefs that it amounted to discrimination," Humphreys wrote.