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Alcohol, Hot Tub, Court Hearing

Whitten and Lublin | Apr 06, 2011

Daniel Lublin’s article in last week’s Metro gives a useful perspective on one of the reasons why Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal continues to  face a growing backlog of claims.

He tells the tale of Anne-Marie Sutton, a contractor for an accounting firm, who made some bold accusations following a company-sponsored retreat.  When a guest of the party began flirting with Sutton, she reciprocated, and before long they were in the hot tub making out.  Sounds like everyone had a pretty good time, right? 

Following the retreat, Sutton filed a complaint with the company and resigned shortly after.  Dissatisfied with the company’s response, she went to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT) claiming to have been drugged, raped and secretly videotaped by the guest and a partner from the firm.  The 8 day hearing ended with the conclusion that Sutton’s version of the events simply could not be believed. 

Company parties and retreats can be a catalyst for claims of sexual harassment.  Often, they are justified, and other times, they are unwarranted and frivolous.  The unfortunate side effect of the latter is that the OHRT has no mandate that allows employers to seek repayment for legal costs.  Consequently, employees can launch costly, extensive trials, financed by the government, while employers are left with a hole in their pocket.

Daniel Lublin calls this “a tragic flaw in human rights tribunals”.  With a growing backlog of cases, the OHRT has got to be wondering what kind of deterrent can be put in place in order that legitimate claims can be heard sooner.