HRTO: Father’s Suggestion That Employee-Daughter Needed a “Bottom Spanking” Could Be Harassment in The Workplace

Adverse treatment of family members in the workplace could ground Human Rights Code harassment complaints.

In an interim decision released April 23, 2018, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (“HRTO”) permitted an Application to continue in which an Employee-Daughter alleged she was harassed in the workplace by her Employer-Father.

The daughter worked as vice-president at a company where her father was president. She claims that her father began to actively undermine and humiliate her in the workplace through a public demotion and further aggressive and bullying conversations which culminated in her dismissal from employment in July 2016.

Parallel OLRB Proceeding

After the daughter made a successful Application to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (“OLRB”) for reinstatement of her employment, the HRTO initiated a summary hearing to determine whether the substance of the HRTO Application had already been dealt with in the parallel OLRB proceeding.

The HRTO determined that the daughter’s allegations of adverse treatment due to family status could continue, as that aspect of the daughter’s complaint had not been adjudicated by the OLRB and had some reasonable prospect of success.

Inflammatory Statements

The daughter claimed that her father had made inflammatory statements during the course of her employment which exceeded the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in an employment relationship.

She pointed to recordings of conversations which included a statement made by her father that she needed her “bottom spanking.” In her Application to the HRTO, she asserted that her father only made these comments because she was his daughter.

Family Status

Section 5(2) of the Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, grants every employee the right to be free from harassment in the workplace because of “family status.” The legislation defines “family status” as “the status of being in a parent and child relationship.”

It’s You, Specifically

Citing the leading case from the Supreme Court of Canada (B. v. Ontario (Human Rights Commission), [2002] 3 SCR 403), the Tribunal noted that Code protections against discrimination on the basis of family status can include discrimination based on the particular identity of the individual involved, not just discrimination based more generally on a person’s membership in a particular group identified by their family status.

In other words, treating someone unfairly because of their particular relationship (such as “the father of a notorious criminal”) can be a violation of the Code just as much as if someone was treated unfairly because they are “a parent” more broadly.

In another decision referenced by the Tribunal (Canonaco v. Canonaco, 2016 HRTO 587), the Tribunal found an uncle had subjected his niece to adverse treatment and harassment because of who her parents were. That case also included specific disparaging comments against the applicant such as calling her a “spoiled brat.”

Allowed to Proceed

After considering that prior jurisprudence, the Tribunal permitted the daughter’s Application to continue, as there was some reasonable prospect that she could establish a link between the workplace treatment she received from her father and her family status as his daughter.