Human Rights Office

Human Rights Office
Human Rights Office

Ford v. Nipissing University 2011 HRTO 204

Summary:

On March 31, 2006, the applicant (Dianne Ford) received an email from a user named Dianne’s Stalker. At the time the applicant was seven months pregnant and a faculty member at Nipissing University.

The applicant’s partner forwarded the email to several members of the senior administration, following which a meeting with campus security took place.

The applicant indicated that she had an idea who the sender of the offensive email might be but declined to tell the university.

After several corresponding emails, it was agreed upon with the parties that a Security Guard would not attend class on Monday morning following the incident. Other options were discussed in terms of another faculty member sitting in on the class or walking Dr. Ford to class, both of which were declined by Dr. Ford.

Technology Services attempted to trace the offensive email and was able to determine that it was sent from a computer in the University Library, however, the computer was in a public area and no login credentials were required to use the computer.

It was noted that Ms. Ford refused to name the individual she thought was responsible was the harassing email.  On April 13, 2006 the applicant was responsible for invigilating an exam by herself.  Dr. Ford stated that she was extremely anxious and this caused her preterm labour, a claim that was not substantiated with any medical proof.

Dr. Ford never returned to the institution following her parental leave.  In her exit interview, she stated that the reasons for leaving were primarily because of the opportunity that the other position offered, however, she noted that if she did not have the new position she would likely be actively seeking other employment as a result of the incident.

Questions to be Determined and Findings:

  1. Did the applicant experience discrimination and harassment in her employment on the bases of sex contrary to ss. 5(1), 5(2) and 7(2) of the Code? (YES)

All parties agree that the offending email constituted harassment.  The question now becomes, whether the ‘directing mind’ of the respondent met its substantive and procedural obligations under the Code.

  1. Did the management of the respondent University respond and investigate the harassment adequately?

In applying the test outlined in Laskowska v. Marineland Inc., 2005 HRTO 30 (CanLII), the following questions must be asked:

  1. Did the employer meet its obligation to provide a healthy work environment? (YES)

It was found that the university did meet its obligations in providing a healthy work environment.

  1. Did management communicate its actions to the applicant? (NO)

Although Initial communication following the incident was effective, the communication throughout the process broke down, due to two reasons. The university primarily communicated with the applicant’s husband and the university failed to follow-up to Dr. Ford’s exit interview request regarding the complaint.

  1. Was the respondent prompt in dealing with a harassment complaint? (YES)
  2. Was the issue dealt with seriously? (NO)

Although both Security Services and the university administration were prompt in their initial response, their tenacity and efforts were not maintained beyond the initial response.

  1. Was there an awareness by the employer that sexual harassment is prohibited conduct? (YES)

However, it was noted that awareness and training of how to effectively reply with empathy was lacking.

  1. Did the employer demonstrate that there is a complaint mechanism in place? (YES, but NO)

There is a harassment and discrimination policy in place, however, in order for the procedures to be triggered, an offender must be named.Due to the fact that without an individual accused of the harassment, the procedure was not available to Dr. Ford and therefore a policy review was precluded.

Reasoning:

The respondent University met its duty to provide a safe work environment, however, they failed to remain diligent in their pursuit of the matter and gaps in policy and procedure due to an unidentified accused and the breakdown in communication mean that the university was ineffective in responding to Dr. Ford’s complaint.

Therefore, in responding to the harassment, the respondent University met its substantive obligations under the Code.  However, because after its initial response, the University failed to remain diligent in pursuing the matter and because of the failure to sustain communications with the applicant, I find that the University did not meet its procedural obligations under the Code.

Remedy:

The following is a summary total of the monetary remedies outlined in these reasons for decision:

  1. $15,000.00 for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect; and
  2. $1,950 for ongoing counseling and psychotherapy.