In a decision released last Friday in R. v. J.P., 2017 NSPC 54 , Nova Scotia Provincial Court Judge Marc Chisholm sentenced a male supervisor for two counts of sexually assaulting a young female employee. The supervisor was given a conditional sentence of eight months.

In one incident, the supervisor grabbed the employee and attempted to pull her onto his lap, then put his hand under her skirt. This incident was caught on video. In another incident, the supervisor slid his hand across the employee’s chest and fondled her breasts.

The supervisor regularly made sexualized comments about the employee throughout her employment, and regularly smacked or kicked her in the buttocks. On at least one occasion, the supervisor opened the employee’s blouse and looked at her breasts. The judge found that on every occasion, the employee told the supervisor no or to stop.

Not surprisingly, the judge found that the supervisor’s actions had “a significant, long-term, negative impact on the victim’s psychological and emotional well-being.”

The employee and another female colleague subjected to similar behaviour complained to their manager. The judge found that their complaints “fell on deaf ears.” The judge’s decision reveals that there were a small number of supervisors in the workplace, and that they were a close-knit group. The judge found that the the victim, “in spite of an unsupportive business environment… came forward with her complaint,” and that “[t]his was courageous.”

It was courageous. Most victims do not come forward, in part because of fear of retaliation. This is especially so when the perpetrator is in a position of power, as was the case here.

The employer who failed to protect its employee in Judge Chisholm’s case dodged a bullet given the publication ban: it has not been identified publicly. Hopefully the fact that one of its supervisors has been found guilty of sexual assault is enough of a wake up call to take a serious look at its workplace culture and its complaint and investigation process.

Complaint and investigation mechanisms should include the ability for complainants to talk to someone external to and independent of the employer, especially in small workplaces or for cases in which the alleged harasser is a person in a position of power.

In the absence of a proper complaint and investigation mechanism, or in the absence of one that can be trusted, an employee who is experiencing sexual harassment at work should consult a lawyer.

For more information about preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace, contact Gail Gatchalian.