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News archive for March 6, 2013

Ex-daycare worker says she was sexually harassed

A hearing regarding alleged discrimination and sexual harassment at a local daycare began Tuesday in Whitehorse.

By Ashley Joannou on March 6, 2013 at 3:39 pm

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

COMPLAINTS AIRED – Members of a panel of the Yukon Human Rights Commission adjudicators listen Tuesday to testimony about alleged sexual harassment. The proceeding, taking place in a conference room of the Westmark Whitehorse Hotel, is open to the public.

A hearing regarding alleged discrimination and sexual harassment at a local daycare began Tuesday in Whitehorse.

Willow Lacosse and Jessica Dyck filed the complaint with the Yukon Human Rights Commission last year against their employer, Christina Hassard, the owner of the now-closed daycare Childhood Discoveries.

The case centres around an employer’s responsibility to protect employees from sexual harassment.

Lacosse and Dyck are alleging harassment by Mike Gustus, another employee at the daycare.

Lacosse claims that after objecting to Gustus’ behavior, she was fired for having a “bad attitude.”

Dyck is alleging she was later fired because she was linked to Lacosse’s human rights complaint and was supporting her friend and co-worker, commission lawyer Colleen Harrington explained in her opening statement.

Section 35 of the Yukon’s Human Rights Act states: “Employers are responsible for the discriminatory conduct of their employees unless it is established they did not consent to the conduct and took care to prevent the conduct or, after learning of the conduct, tried to rectify the situation,” Harrington said.

Lacosse, who has her level one childcare certification and has worked at other daycares in the past, was the only person who testified Tuesday.

The 24-year-old described a work environment where she says Gustus would frequently make sexually suggestive comments, sometimes while Hassard and other employees were present and a few times around the children.

After she was hired in October 2011, Lacosse said, she thought she would enjoy working at the Riverdale daycare, which cared for children from infants to school age.

On one of her first days there, she claims Gustus made a comment suggesting she was not wearing any underwear.

During her approximately four hours of testimony, Lacosse testified that Gustus often made jokes involving sexual innuendos when the children were nearby and “treated the children like they were not there.”

At other times, she said, Gustus would make jokes about the size of his penis or comments about the “hot pictures” she had on Facebook.

“Knowing that he was seeing my pictures and thinking of me in that way made me uncomfortable,” the business student said.

Gustus, who Lacosse suggested is in his 40s, was identified to staff as the co-director of the daycare. He has also worked as the janitor, cook and a support worker for children with disabilities, she said.

She said she endured Gustus’ conduct for some time because, as a single mother, she needed the job.

Lacosse testified Gustus had a close relationship with Hassard.

She said that relationship made it difficult to go to Hassard with any concerns.

She described her boss as a woman who didn’t like conflict and would often leave it to Gustus to deal with complaints in the workplace.

Lacosse admitted that sometimes she would laugh at the inappropriate jokes, but insists it wasn’t because she thought anything was funny.

She said she didn’t want to appear to be “a stick in the mud,” and that if you didn’t laugh at the jokes, “you would become an outcast.”

Though she never confronted Gustus directly, Lacosse said, she made it clear she was uncomfortable with his behaviour by rolling her eyes, walking away, saying things like “eww” or avoiding him completely.

When Lacosse was fired in January 2012, after about three months at the daycare, Hassard told her it was because of her behaviour, she said.

She admits to having some problems at work, including accidently leaving one child behind at the daycare when taking some others for a walk. However, she said, she apologized for that mistake and believed it was in the past.

When she was dismissed, Lacosse said she told Hassard and Gustus: “Ever since I stopped accepting your sexual comments and jokes, you tell me I have an attitude problem.”

Lacosse said she struggled for months to find work after that job. She didn’t receive any calls back from other Yukon daycares despite her experience, she testified.

She said she felt depressed, developed anxiety and felt worthless, “like I didn’t deserve to have a good job.

“Everywhere I went, people knew about the (human rights) case even though it’s supposed to be confidential,” she said.

Lacosse insists she did not file the accusations because she was fired and did not want the daycare to be closed.

She said she’s gone through with the complaint “so other women would learn that this had happened and not have to go through it.”

The hearing continued today, beginning with the cross-examination of Lacosse by Hassard, who is representing herself.

The hearing, open to the public and taking place at the Westmark Whitehorse Hotel, is scheduled to last three days.

CommentsAdd a comment

Riley Thomas

Mar 6, 2013 at 4:47 pm

In my workplace a women complimented me on the shape of my rear end and suggested I was trying to turn her on when bending over to pick something up.

It was a little awkward but I did not want to create any problems with co-workers. I guess I secretly thought it was a compliment although I had no interest in a personal relationship with this woman. Many people in the office heard her comments but did not correct her or speak up for me.

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