One day is enough for harassed worker

Boss’ behaviour made employee feel uncomfortable even before first day at work

An overly friendly British Columbia businessman sexually harassed a new employee who only worked for one day at his office, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ruled.

Ara Manufacturing Company, a paper company in Vancouver, was owned by Esmaeil Marzara, 58. Ara was a small company located in an open-concept office area where Ara’s son was part of the staff.

Marzara went to a particular restaurant with his family regularly and got to know one of the servers on a casual basis. The server, who was a 24-year-old recent university graduate in September 2006, was looking for an entry-level business job to gain work experience before going back to school. When Marzara learned of this, he gave her a business card and told her to send him her resumé.

After some thought, the woman felt it was a good opportunity to get her foot in the door in the business world and sent her resumé to Marzara the next day. Ara called her and scheduled an interview and skills test.

After the woman took the test at Ara’s office with another applicant, Marzara took her into the boardroom and went through the test with her. Marzara said he wanted to hire a young person who could grow with the company and would let her know shortly. At the end of the interview, Marzara gave her a hug, which the woman accepted as a friendly gesture, though she thought it a little odd.

Hugs and kisses followed hiring

The next day, Sept. 22, 2006, Marzara hired the woman and invited her to come to the office to review the employment contract. The contract included a clause stating if either Ara or the employee terminated the contract during the probationary period, she would be paid “all monies due to you.” There were no extra penalties indicated if the employee quit.

After discussing the contract, job duties and a start date of Sept. 25, Marzara gave the woman another hug followed by two kisses on the lips. The new employee was caught off guard and told the tribunal later she was in a state of shock for the rest of the time she was in the office being shown around. She testified she felt uncomfortable but chalked it up to cultural differences.

Phone call made new employee uneasy

Marzara called his new employee the following day and asked her if she would still be working at the restaurant. He also asked her when she worked that weekend and when she went to church. When she said she would be working or attending church most of the weekend, Marzara said it looked like she wouldn’t be able to go out for coffee with him. The woman told the tribunal she felt “really uneasy and concerned” after this call.

The woman reported to Ara’s office for her first day of work on Monday, Sept. 25, 2006. She was shown around the office and given some orientation materials to review. Later that morning, Marzara arrived at the office and asked her to come into the boardroom to take some notes. At the end of the session, Marzara hugged and kissed her.

Unprofessional behaviour enough for employee after one day

At this point, the new employee had had enough and told Marzara hugging and kissing was not part of her own Chinese and Christian culture. Back at her desk, Marzara told her Canadians were more open and they could talk about it later. The employee didn’t think there was anything else to discuss on the subject and resolved to finish the day and then quit her job.

That afternoon, Marzara asked the employee to come into another room in the office, where he asked her questions about her personal life, particularly her boyfriend. When she said she wanted to keep things professional between them and she was happy with her relationship, Marzara replied that people often had relationships “on the side” and she needed someone to take care of her. Shortly after the conversation, the employee left since it was the end of the day.

The next day, the employee sent her letter of resignation to Marzara, explaining she felt it was not a professional environment and the incidents that occurred meant she didn’t have to fulfill the employment contract. She asked for her pay for the day she worked and no further contact from Marzara. She also filed a sexual harassment complaint, saying her experience at Ara made her a different person because she was less trusting of people and looked at things differently. Marzara denied ever hugging or kissing her and claimed he hadn’t been looking to hire someone but was being nice to her. He said she was trying to get out of a job that she decided she didn’t like after one day.

The tribunal found Marzara to lack credibility, since it was unlikely he would have interviewed and tested the woman and another person and offer her a job the next day if he wasn’t looking to hire someone. It also found it unlikely the woman would go through the human rights complaints process to get out of a job she worked at for one day.

The tribunal found Marzara subjected the woman to sexual harassment both before she started the job and on her first day at work, to the point where the woman felt so uncomfortable she couldn’t return for a second day. It ordered Ara to pay the woman two weeks’ wages —$1,120 — which is how long she said she needed to recover from the experience before she started looking for work. Given the difference in age, Marzara’s authority over her and the number of incidents in a short time, the tribunal also awarded Ara to pay her $6,000 for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect.

For more information see:

Kwan v. Marzara, 2009 CarswellBC 3347 (B.C. Human Rights Trib.).

Latest stories