Nothing “comfortable” or “sweet” about this no-tell hotel

Aris v. Desai, 2003 CarswellOnt 4038 (Ont. Human Rights Trib.)

Ligia Arias went on an interview for a job at the Comfort Suites Hotel in Windsor, Ont., during which one of the interviewers, Sanjay Desai, looked at her “breasts instead of her face.” But the 18-year-old was nervous about getting the job and overlooked that situation. She got the job and began work at the front desk, checking in guests, in May 2000.

Desai dropped in often while she was working and frequently asked her, and her colleagues, for hugs. Arias was uncomfortable hugging him but felt pressured into it.

In June Desai visited the hotel when Arias was working alone. He went into a nearby darkened office and called her in. He asked for a hug, and then wouldn’t let Arias out of the embrace. Arias tried to push him away. He nibbled on her ear. Arias testified she could feel his erection, and pushed harder to get away. He told her he wanted to eat her. She got away and busied herself at the front desk. Desai offered to come back later, but Arias told him there was no need, because they were not busy.

She called her boyfriend and told him what had happened. While they were on the phone, Desai called on another line and reiterated that he wanted to eat her. Arias stayed on the phone with her boyfriend for more than an hour because she was afraid Desai would come back.

After the incident Desai continued to ask for hugs but Arias stopped giving them.

On another occasion Jack Patel (who had also interviewed her for the job) tried to get her to go into the darkened office but she ignored him and did not go in. She said that was the only incident with Patel so she did not file a complaint against him.

Another time, Desai walked by Arias and “grabbed my butt” with his hand while she was standing at the front desk talking to a customer on the phone. And once, when the two were in the parking lot, an airplane flew by with a banner with a marriage proposal. Desai looked at it and asked “will you marry me?” Arias did not reply.

Arias went to the police with her complaints, but was told she would have to wait for an appointment because the person who handled sexual harassment complaints in Windsor was very busy. Arias decided to go to the Human Rights Commission.

In August Desai called her at home and fired her.

A co-worker of Arias’s testified that Desai regularly made sexual comments to her, such as “shorter skirts are easier access” and often looked at her breasts.

In his testimony Desai denied everything, including ever having made any sexual comments. He said he had fired Arias for “poor” performance as her 90-day probation was coming to an end.

The Human Rights Tribunal found the Comfort Suites Hotel was a “very poisoned” workplace, that Arias had been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace and that her termination had been made in reprisal for her complaints about Desai.

The tribunal awarded Arias $25,000 in general damages as compensation for her humiliation and loss of dignity. It awarded $5,000 as compensation for her mental anguish. And it awarded special damages of $1,920 to cover six weeks’ worth of lost wages after her termination.

Desai and the Comfort Suites Hotel were ordered to implement a comprehensive workplace anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy. The organization’s managers and employees were ordered to take anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training.

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