A class action alleging sexual harassment against a national law enforcement agency has led to a likely $100 million settlement, as well as a tearful public apology from the head of that agency. This is refreshing and welcome news, but people in the United States have less cause to celebrate than our neighbors to the north, since this all occurred in Canada. The class action accuses the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) of allowing widespread sexual harassment of female employees and officers to persist from at least 1974 to 2011. Canadian law is similar to the laws of the United States and New York in many ways, as they all have roots in English common law. The proposed settlement and the apology are good news in the fight against sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the workplace.
Workers in New York City have recourse against unlawful acts like sexual harassment under federal, state, and city law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, and the U.S. Supreme Court has expressly extended this protection to include sexual harassment. The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) provides similar protections, as does the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). Title VII applies nationwide, but not every state or city in this country has the same legal protections offered by the NYSHRL and NYCHRL.
The Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) is similar to the NYSHRL. It provides similar protections against workplace discrimination and harassment, and it applies to employers and employees throughout the province. Much like various court decisions from New York and around the U.S., the OHRC defines “harassment” as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.” It therefore includes both an objective definition of harassment, based on what a reasonable person would consider to be “unwelcome,” and a subjective one that addresses what the person engaging in the conduct should be expected to know.
One of the lead plaintiffs in the Canadian class action served as an officer in the RCMP for twenty-seven years, including several years on the Canadian Prime Minister’s personal security detail. Her complaint describes years of “unwanted sexual advances” and harassment. Another lead plaintiff spent at least nineteen years with the RCMP. She alleges an ongoing campaign of sexual harassment and harassment based on pregnancy. This culminated, she claims, in diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice, which is about the equivalent of a Supreme Court in New York, ruled on a motion to dismiss by the defendant in 2015. Davidson, et al v. Canada, 2015 ONC 8008. The plaintiffs were not asserting a cause of action under the OHRC. Instead, they were claiming negligence and breach of contract by the RCMP and Canada. The court dismissed the breach of contract claim, but allowed the negligence claim to proceed on the theory that the government had a duty to prevent sexual harassment but failed to do so. This ruling paved the way for the proposed settlement.
The knowledgeable and skilled employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate for New York City job seekers, employees, and former employees in claims for sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and other unlawful acts under city, state, and federal employment statutes. Please contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.
More Blog Posts:
Paid Family Leave Statute to Take Effect in New York in 2018, New York Employment Attorney Blog, January 12, 2017
Sexual Harassment Regulations for New York City Taxi Drivers Proposed, then Withdrawn, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 15, 2016
Summer Concert Tour Faces Multiple Sexual Harassment Allegations, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 31, 2015