Workplace harassment findings get serious

University tribunal hands down sanctions against senior staff for harassing junior faculty
By Sarah Vokey
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 11/27/2013

A recent precedent-setting decision of a tribunal assembled by McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., to hear serious allegations of harassment in the workplace demonstrates that harassment complaints have traction and can attract serious consequences in a post-Bill 168 world — and outside of human rights legislation.

Two complaints were brought before the university tribunal. A group of complainants included seven faculty members and one staff member who alleged that six other faculty members — who were senior and mostly tenured — had harassed and discriminated against them and were responsible for a poisoned academic and work environment that existed at the business school. The complainants — all without tenure at the university — further alleged they had been the subject of vexatious comments and conduct and the alleged harassers had used their positions to negatively impact the complainants’ careers and negatively influence the work environment. The hearing before the tribunal produced 2,694 documents and 65 witnesses over three months with 21 extended hearing days.

The tribunal found that each individual accused harasser had engaged in comment or conduct that repeated breached the McMaster University Anti-Discrimination Policy. The breaches of the policy were largely made possible by the power held by the senior staff relative to the complainants. The breaches of the policy and instances of harassment perpetrated by the individuals against the complainants included various comments and conduct as well as — most shockingly — negatively interfering with the career progression, including the tenure and promotion process, of the complainants, who were perceived supporters of the senior administration.