Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for August 22, 2012

Subject of harassment happy with decision

Local businessman and basketball coach Mark Hureau did sexually harass former staffer and basketball player Devon Hanson, the Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication has concluded.

By Stephanie Waddell on August 22, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Local businessman and basketball coach Mark Hureau did sexually harass former staffer and basketball player Devon Hanson, the Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication has concluded.

Hureau’s lawyer, James Tucker,  said this morning he and his client are carefully examining the 21-page decision to decide how they will proceed, including whether they will appeal it.

His client, he said, has no comment at this time on the decision.

In a 21-page document released Tuesday, the board stated: “The board believes that a finding of sexual harassment has been established. The board determines that there were sufficient indicators of unwelcome, sexual in nature and persistent conduct in Mr. Hureau’s interactions with Ms. Hanson during the period from March 15 to March 28, 2010 to warrant this finding of sexual harassment as defined in the Yukon Human Rights Act. This finding is further underscored by the power imbalance, age difference and generational communication issues already touched on.

“In its finding that Mr. Hureau sexually harassed Ms. Hanson, this board further finds the harassment to be at the ‘most mild end of the spectrum’ of sexual harassment.”

While the board concluded Hureau sexually harassed Hanson, it did not go as far as making a finding against Hureau’s business - 17385 Yukon Inc. - the local Intersport store where Hanson worked for Hureau and his business partner Rob LaRose.

“Because of the lack of notification of alleged harassment to the employer, and as there were limited submissions on the culpability of the corporation, the board makes no finding against 17385 Yukon Inc. dba (doing business as) Intersport. Most of the actions that substantiate, in the board’s eyes, the allegations of sexual harassment, occurred outside of the work environment in the context of the broader relationship and were not specifically employer-employee related.”

In an interview early this afternoon, Hanson said she’s happy with the decision.

The past two years have been difficult, but she’s now confident she did the right thing in bringing the complaint forward and it’s her hope that others experiencing harassment will be able to do the same and know there’s help and support out there.

Hanson went on to thank her family and friends who have stood by her throughout the process.

As she gets set to begin another year of university in Nova Scotia, she said this gives her a “huge sense of relief” that she can begin with a clean slate and move forward in her life.

As for the remedy she may seek in the next 30 days, she said she plans to submit a statement, but it would be premature at this point to comment on what that may include.

Both Hureau and Hanson now have 30 days to make submissions on remedy, with each party having 10 days to reply after that.

Heather McFadgen, the commission’s executive director, said the decision points out that it’s not enough to be told a person is being harassed, but the offender “ought to know” their actions are unwelcome.

It also points to the importance of employers having policies on sexual harassment and notes the power employers hold over employees, she said.

The decision, McFadgen added, also deals with the fairly new type of harassment in the form of electronic media.

She went on to state too both the hearing and decision are a form of public education and raise awareness for young people who may be experiencing harassment.

It also lets both employees and employers know what the laws are, said the executive director.

The decision comes more than two months after the six-day hearing on the case that saw seven witnesses offer testimony in addition to both Hanson and Hureau telling the board their version of events.

Over the course of the hearing, board members heard about Hureau’s and Hanson’s relationship which began in 2007 with Hureau coaching basketball at Porter Creek Secondary School, where Hanson played.

As time went on, Hureau also became her employer through Intersport and also coached the Arctic Winter Games girls’ basketball team that Hanson was a part of in 2010.

Much of the hearing focused on email and text messages between the two with Hanson bringing forward portions of conversations that happened through cell phones.

Hureau argued in the case that the emails and texts had been taken out of context.

The board also heard of incidents between the two including a birthday party Hanson and two other store employees had for Hureau, interactions at the 2010 AWG and others.

After quitting her job in March 2010, Hanson filed her complaint with the human rights board on June 11, 2010.

The complaint stated: “The complainant alleges that the respondent contravened the act by discriminating against her on the prohibited ground of sex and sexual harassment in connection with employment.”

The document goes on to note harass is defined in the Yukon Human Rights Act as: “to engage in a course of vexatious conduct or to make a demand or a sexual solicitation or advance that one knows or ought reasonably know is unwelcome.”

It then goes on to cite case law around sexual harassment.

“The complaint filed by Ms. Hanson with the commission on June 11, 2010 (exhibit 16) sets out a number of alleged incidents that purport to establish her case for sexual harassment,” the decision reads. “These include: inappropriate verbal comments, inappropriate physical touching, inappropriate texting and emailing.

Later at the hearing before the board, Ms. Hanson further expanded on the number of incidents included under these categories.”

In first looking at whether Hureau’s conduct was welcome, the board noted Hanson “clearly testified” that Hureau’s behaviour between March 15 and 27, 2010 was not welcome.

“While there is no evidence that she communicated that the behaviour was unwelcome, her testimony was that she left her employment as a result of the behaviour,” it’s noted. “Further, Mr. Hureau’s text and email apologies of March 26 and 27 may be interpreted as amplifying the correctness of her perception.”

The board then went on to find there was sufficient evidence showing Hureau’s conduct with Hanson “was, at times, especially within his communication to Ms. Hanson, of a sexual nature.”

In making that finding, the board looked to a number of emails.

While Hureau explained the emails during the hearing and noted there was no sexual context in them, in rereading a March 26, 2010 email he acknowledged passages could be easily misconstrued if they were taken out of context.

“This, he stated, prompted the second email on March 27,” the decision notes. “In reference to a number of passages of the March 26 email he writes: ‘Some of them can be interpreted as come ons.’”

The decision goes on to state case law and cites arguments by the commission that a reasonable person could find Hureau’s conduct to be sexual in nature “in a variety of incidents.”

The board then determined that within “a very limited” timeframe, Hureau’s “intensive communications” with Hanson “established that the persistence of this conduct was sufficient to find for harassment.”

There was no indication Hanson made any attempts to notify LaRose of her concerns.

“Ms. Hanson did not notify her employer of the harassment, which means that the respondent-employer, Intersport, did not have the opportunity to address the allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace,” reads the decision.

The decision then goes on to note both the age and the power imbalance between the 43-year-old Hureau and the 18-year-old employee/basketball player.

In speaking to remedy, the board cited case law and went on to note the impact the matter has had on both Hanson and Hureau,

Hanson, it was noted, made it clear she believes she suffered ostracism due to the complaint.

“While the respondent attempted to show that such reaction was of Ms. Hanson’s own actions, the board cannot accept that Ms. Hanson has not been emotionally affected by these circumstances and the very public nature of the proceedings prior to and during the human rights complaint process,” it reads.

Testimony also showed Hureau’s personal life, behaviour with employees, coaching career and activity have all been negatively affected.

“The board also accepts the testimony in regard to the negative impact on the complaint on the respondent’s business at Intersport and the resulting stress on his relationships with customers and former friends,” the decision states.

“Taking this evidence into consideration and recognizing that this case unfolded in a small northern city where it drew significant local media attention, the board believes the formal finding of discrimination is the necessary and sufficient act to serve not only as a punitive consequence to Mr. Hureau, but also as a censure and cautionary example to other Yukon community organizations and businesses.”

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