Former daycare workers claim sexual harassment

Two Whitehorse women are claiming they were sexually harassed while working at a Riverdale daycare, and that their employer did nothing to stop the behaviour.

Two Whitehorse women are claiming they were sexually harassed while working at a Riverdale daycare, and that their employer did nothing to stop the behaviour.

Willow Lacosse and Jessica Dyck allege their supervisor at Childhood Discoveries Preschool, Mike Gustus, sexually harassed them. 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.

Lacosse and Dyck filed complaints with the Yukon Human Rights Commission in March 2012. The Human Rights Board of Adjudication began hearing their case this week.

At the time of their complaints, both had been fired from the daycare. It closed last year. Lacosse alleges she was fired because her bosses thought she had a bad attitude. But she was only fired because she tried to speak out about how uncomfortable Gustus’s jokes made her feel, she alleges.

Lacosse, now 24, worked at the daycare as a preschool teacher from October 2011 until January 2012. Gustus had many jobs, including cooking and helping two children with intellectual disabilities. He was in charge when Hassard was away.

“I really liked my job for a while,” Lacosse told the tribunal. She had been unhappy at work since before Christmas, she said. She needed the job to support her young son. “I really wanted this job to work out,” she said.

In January, she was told she was being dismissed. She had forgotten about a child in the bathroom at the daycare, and had once forgotten to pick a child up. She was also often late for work. Hassard also mentioned all this when Lacosse was fired, Lacosse said.

But Lacosse told the tribunal that she was only trying to avoid Gustus at work, and that made Hassard think she had a bad attitude.

Gustus’s “daily” jokes and innuendo made her feel uncomfortable at work, she said.

He would hold eye contact for too long with her, said Lacosse. Once, when Gustus and Lacosse were working in the kitchen together, he gestured to pull down his pants to prove his family lineage was Tlingit, Lacosse told the tribunal. She told him she found him disgusting.

Shortly after she started working there, Gustus asked Lacosse to be his friend on Facebook. She waited, and then reluctantly accepted the request. After she did that, Gustus told Hassard one day at work that Lacosse had a lot of “hot” photographs on her profile, and that she looked especially good when her hair was blonde.

Gustus did not touch her inappropriately, said Lacosse. Once, he looked her in the eyes, told her she was beautiful, and began to give her a hug. She did not refuse, even though she felt uncomfortable, she told the tribunal.

Lacosse did not bring her concerns to Hassard, she said. Gustus and Hassard appeared to be very close. When she first started working at the daycare, she thought they were a couple, she told the tribunal. The two would make sexual jokes together, comparing a cucumber to Gustus’s penis, Lacosse said. Lacosse often saw Gustus give Hassard massages, or touch the small of her back, she said. “I found (their relationship) a little bit too close,” she told the tribunal. Gustus’s actions didn’t seem to concern Hassard, Lacosse said.

Lacosse never spoke to Gustus about her concerns. “That would not be my place as a lower-place employee,” she told the tribunal. Instead, she would roll her eyes, tell him he was being creepy, or generally try to avoid him, she said.

If she did laugh at Gustus’s jokes, it was only because she wanted to fit in, she said. She didn’t want to be a “stick in the mud” or feel isolated at work, she said.

After her job at the daycare ended, it took her months to find another job, she said. And it was hard for her to collect employment insurance. She considered moving back to Dawson to work, but couldn’t find a place to live there, she told the tribunal. She’s now a student at Yukon College. Instead of spending her reading week studying, she’s in this hearing, she told the tribunal. A lot of people have heard about the case, and it makes her anxious, she said.

“The bottom line is, while I worked there, I felt creeped out,” she told the tribunal. “The only thing that keeps me sane is the fact that I’m telling the truth.”

The hearing continues until Thursday.

– with files by Josh Kerr.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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