Daycare owner responds to sexual harassment complaint

Christina Hassard, former owner of Childhood Discoveries Preschool in Riverdale, still finds it difficult to talk about when Willow Lacosse and Jessica Dyck stopped working for her over a year ago.

Christina Hassard, former owner of Childhood Discoveries Preschool in Riverdale, still finds it difficult to talk about when Willow Lacosse and Jessica Dyck stopped working for her over a year ago.

“This is really stressful,” she said, struggling to give her name for the record Thursday morning at a Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication hearing.

In early 2012, Lacosse and Dyck filed complaints with the Yukon Human Rights Commission. They had both recently stopped working as preschool teachers for Hassard.

Lacosse, now 24, worked for Hassard from October 2011 to January 2012. Dyck, now 23, began work in November 2011. She left a few weeks after Lacosse. Both filed human rights complaints shortly after leaving.

They both allege they were sexually harassed by their supervisor, Mike Gustus. Gustus had many jobs at the daycare, including being a co-director and working with two children who had intellectual disabilities. They allege that he made many rude comments and sexual jokes that made it difficult to work in the daycare, and that his close relationship with their boss, Christina Hassard, made it impossible for them to complain.

Under Yukon’s Human Rights Act, employers are responsible for their employees’ discriminatory conduct unless it can be proven the employers didn’t consent to it, or if they tried to prevent it or tried to make the situation right after hearing about it.

But Lacosse and Dyck never told her they felt Gustus was sexually harassing them, said Hassard.

“I really wish I could have known so we could have fixed it,” she said.

Both women told Hassard they thought staff could be more professional in how they spoke, they testified this week. But neither mentioned Gustus specifically, they said.

“I didn’t feel comfortable bringing up Mike specifically to her,” said Dyck, explaining that Hassard and Gustus had a very close relationship.

Lacosse only mentioned she felt sexually harassed after Hassard told her she was letting her go, Hassard told the tribunal on Thursday.

“I was just so shocked,” said Hassard. “I didn’t even get a chance to respond.”

There were consistent problems with Lacosse at work, Hassard told the tribunal. She was often late, and would nap when she was supposed to be watching the kids, she said. And she had a bad attitude towards Gustus, said Hassard.

“I knew something was coming, I just didn’t know what,” she told the tribunal. She never suspected that Lacosse would claim she was fired because of sexual harassment, she said.

Dyck’s complaint was especially surprising, she said. There were few problems with Dyck at work, said Hassard.

The day Lacosse left, Gustus asked all the staff members if they felt his comments were inappropriate, said Hassard. No one said they had a problem with them, she said. When she asked the question directly in a staff meeting, nobody said anything either, she said.

The staff handbook had no policy on sexual harassment, said Hassard. She didn’t make one right after Lacosse left because she “didn’t see the importance at the time,” she said. But she did make a general policy later, after the human rights commission suggested she do so.

Gustus made several sexually inappropriate comments to Lacosse and Dyck, the women allege.

Once, when Gustus and Lacosse were working in the kitchen together, he gestured that he would pull down his pants to prove he was Tlingit, Lacosse told the tribunal on Tuesday.

He also asked Dyck to wrestle in the snow with him while he, Lacosse and Dyck were on a trip to the park together, Dyck said on Wednesday. She tried to laugh it off, but it made her feel uncomfortable, she said.

During the same trip, the women allege, he wiggled his behind and asked the girls if they thought he looked “hot” in his snowsuit.

Another time, when Dyck had moved out of the way so Gustus could sweep the floor, he said he would “sweep her off her feet,” she said on Wednesday. He also said he was happy to work with her because she was the “attractive one.”

Both incidents happened shortly after Dyck began working at the daycare. “I didn’t like him very much,” she told the tribunal. “I didn’t find him funny.”

Most staff did. They all “had a pretty good sense of humour, I thought,” Hassard told the tribunal. Many of Gustus’s jokes can be interpreted as being “sick,” said Hassard. She’s known him since 2004, and the two are close friends.

Childhood Discoveries was a positive place to work, said Shona Sicotte, a former employee, on Wednesday. Staff got along and had a similar sense of humour. The only one who didn’t make these jokes was Dyck, she said.

Some of Gustus’s jokes could be interpreted sexually, said Sicotte. She said she could understand why someone might file a complaint against Gustus, but she couldn’t see why Lacosse would file a complaint against Hassard. It looks like a “cash grab,” she said Wednesday.

Both Lacosse and Dyck originally also filed complaints against Gustus. But these complaints have been settled, said Colleen Harrington, a lawyer for the human rights commission.

The daycare closed last spring.

The hearing continues Friday. It isn’t known when the board will make its decision.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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