B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hands out record award

Waitress who was sexually harassed, fired and falsely accused of having an affair awarded $10,000 for injury to dignity, feelings and self respect

A former waitress in British Columbia who tried to commit suicide twice after being sexually harassed, fired from her job and accused of having an extra-marital affair, has been given the highest award for mental suffering in the history of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

Sukhwinder Gill, who worked at Grammy’s Place Restaurant and Bakery in Hope, B.C., was awarded nearly $20,000 by the tribunal — including $10,000 for mental anguish. Gill worked at the restaurant from April to December of 1996, when she was fired without cause.

Gill told the tribunal that during her short tenure at the restaurant John Grammatikos, the owner of Grammy’s, verbally harassed her, touched her inappropriately and gave her a satin night robe at the restaurant’s Christmas party.

The worst incident came in September 1996 when Gill and Grammatikos were the only two in the restaurant. They were closing up when Gill said Grammatikos cornered her, grabbed her and tried to forcibly kiss her. She said she escaped from him only to have him again grab her, put his hands all over her body and again try to kiss her. She managed to escape into the parking lot but he followed her and propositioned her for sexual favours.

She said she was terminated because she refused his advances and because she had told a co-worker about Grammatikos’ indecent conduct and the attack on her in September. For his part Grammatikos said he fired her because she was having an affair with a co-worker. The tribunal begged to differ.

It found the restaurant discriminated against her based on her sex contrary to the B.C. Human Rights Code, that her employment was terminated on a discriminatory basis and that he made up and spread false rumours that she had an extra-marital affair as an explanation for the termination of her employment to punish her and to silence her about the sexual harassment.

The most noteworthy part of this case is the $10,000 award for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect. In awarding this record amount, tribunal member Ana Mohammed highlighted the debilitating effect the sexual harassment, termination and rumours had on Gill. She said Gill’s evidence was “detailed and compelling.”

“(She) described the recurring memories of the attack … and the recurring words of Grammatikos that women were only good for two things, ‘having babies and making men happy,’” wrote Mohammed in her decision. “She began to question the decency of all men, even her husband, as a result of Grammatikos’ actions.”

During the hearing, witnesses described Gill as “going from a friendly, outgoing and social person to an angry, withdrawn and emotionally fragile recluse.”

The tribunal found Grammatikos’ actions had a particularly severe impact on Gill because of her cultural background — she is of East Indian descent, her traditional views of marriage and prior medical history.

In coming up with the $10,000 figure, the tribunal looked at previous cases it decided. The previous highest award for such damages in B.C. was $7,500, awarded in Nixon v. Vancouver Rape Relief Society.

“In considering whether to exceed the highest amount awarded by this tribunal to date, I am of the view that the circumstances of the particular case, with a focus on adequately compensating a complainant for the injury sustained, is of paramount importance,” wrote Mohammed in her decision. “In my view the impact on Gill’s feelings, dignity and self-respect could not have been more severe, short of a successful suicide attempt. I find that the extraordinary circumstances of this case, in light of precedent, demand a higher award.”

Gill was also awarded six months’ notice, or $7,500, for lost wages, $750 in medical costs and $1,500 for the cost of transcripts relating to the trial.

In an interview with CBC, Gill said she took little solace in the victory because Grammatikos died last year and never offered an apology or admitted his guilt.

“I never really asked for money,” said Gill. “All I wanted him to do was apologize and say, ‘I’m sorry, I did hurt Mrs. Gill. I did do all those things.”

For more information see:

Gill v. Grammy’s Place Restaurant and Bakery Ltd. (December 16, 2003), BCHRT 88 (B.C. Human Rights Trib.)

Nixon v. Vancouver Rape Relief Society, 2002 CarswellBC 3557 (B.C. Human Rights Trib.)

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