A former Lake Country hairstylist can move forward with a sex discrimination claim she filed after a co-worker called her “hun, honey and sweetie,” according to a recent decision by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
Brigette Hollett launched the case against Valentina’s Hair Studio and her former boss, Cecilia Burtch, after a male co-worker looked at her and referred to her “inappropriately” in June 2017.
The Tribunal’s decision, released Oct. 30, refers to the male coworker in question as M.
Hollett alleges she was sexually harassed by M, who called her “hun” on her first day of work at the salon. She was made to feel uncomfortable again the next day when he called her “honey and “sweetie” and looked at her buttocks.
The hair studio applied to have the case dismissed on the grounds that M referred to everyone as “honey” and “sweetie,” with no one else taking offence. However, the Tribunal said that argument missed the point, because the focus of the claim is on the effect the words had on Hollett.
“Ms. Hollett does not have to prove M intended to discriminate against her. The focus of human rights law is on discriminatory impact, not discriminatory intent,” reads the decision, which ultimately denied the hair salon’s application to have the case dismissed.
According to the decision, an altercation took place between M and Hollett’s boyfriend in the parking lot outside the salon, in which her boyfriend approached M’s vehicle, banged on it, and told M to stay away from Hollett.
Hollett alleges she told Burtch she had been sexually harassed after the incident during her second day on the job, but said her boss was unsupportive and “ignored her right to reject uncomfortable situations at work.” Instead, Burtch told Hollett to apologize to M because of the altercation.
Burtch argued she did her best to deal with the situation in a short amount of time, as Hollett quit her job soon afterwards. She also argued that she only asked Hollett to apologize because other staff members had been frightened by the altercation in the parking lot.
The tribunal dismissed these arguments as well, saying Burtch had time to deal with the situation, and the altercation did not alleviate the salon’s obligation to take the sexual harassment complaint seriously.
The decision will allow the case to go to a hearing, however, the tribunal recommended that both parties avoid a hearing and instead resolve the matter by mutual agreement, using the tribunal’s mediation services.