Human rights board finds coach guilty of harassment

The Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication has found that Mark Hureau sexually harassed Devon Hanson while he was her boss at the Whitehorse retailer Intersport.

The Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication has found that Mark Hureau sexually harassed Devon Hanson while he was her boss at the Whitehorse retailer Intersport.

It found that the harassment was at the “most mild end of the spectrum of sexual conduct” and they did not require that any damages be paid.

The board acknowledged that both Hureau and Hanson have suffered negative social consequences as a result of their involvement in the proceedings, and hoped the decision would serve “as a censure and cautionary example to other Yukon community organizations and businesses.”

The hearing was marred by inconsistent, incomplete and contradictory evidence brought forward by the parties and witnesses.

Hureau, 43 at the time of the offence, was Hanson’s employer and basketball coach. She was 18 and in high school at the time.

Evidence of the frequency and personal nature of their communication with each other pointed to a close relationship, and Hanson testified that “he was my mentor,” according to the board’s decision.

Their relationship appeared to change in nature in March 2010, when Hureau took the girls’ basketball team that he coached to the Arctic Winter Games in Alberta. Hanson was one of the co-captains of the team.

Witnesses testified that Hanson gave special attention to Hureau on that trip, including leaning against his legs while watching a game and approaching him during a meal while he was seated with other adults to ask if he wanted any dessert.

When they returned to Whitehorse, Hanson continued to work at Intersport part time, and she alleges that Hureau’s behaviour towards her became increasingly inappropriate.

On an incident at the store on March 16, their hands met while taping up boxes. The parties disagree on who initiated the contact, but Hureau testified to saying something like, “Devon, give me your hand. The mystery is over now, no problem. I think it is adorable.”

On March 22, Hureau “put Ms. Hanson down” in front of another employee. He later apologized in an email, saying, “I put you down in front of Candace on purpose, because that you hold a special place for me and I don’t want her to feel left out. She knows that when given a chance, I just want to be with you when we’re here. Sorry if that makes you feel under-appreciated or picked on. Didn’t little boys hit you when they liked you?”

On March 26, Hanson received a text message from Hureau while at work saying, “zip up hoodie or I’ll tell your dad.” She testified that when she left work that day she knew that she would not return.

The board relied mostly on email and text message exchanges between March 26 and 27, 2010, in their finding that sexual harassment occurred.

In one correspondence, Hanson told Hureau, “Over the last couple of weeks you’ve been saying things and doing things that have been creeping me out. It is very unfair of you to put me in this situation where I do not have a clue what to do. I’ve talked to my parents and I have some things to think about. Your email came at the exact time I was going to tell you to stop. So sorry, but I don’t think I can work at Intersport anymore. You crossed the line big time.”

In communications to Hanson, Hureau made statements like, “(I) know that I am scaring you about talks of crushes etc.” and “constantly telling you how special you are has backfired on me in that I want to be around you too much, and get jealous of all the undeserving slobs who think they are good enough….there I go” and “you can do your part by trying not to be so alluring, or funny, or nice, or ….. JK.”

Counsel for Hureau argued that, taken in their appropriate context of a close relationship between Hanson and her employer, none of his communications or actions “were sexual in nature.”

However, in a later email Hureau referred to some of his earlier statements and affirmed that “some of them can be interpreted as come ons.”

The board acknowledged that Hanson engaged in “flirtatious” behaviour and “possible plays for attention” towards Hureau.

However, they also found the age difference between the two and Hureau’s authority over Hanson left him with a greater responsibility in his interactions with her.

“Mr. Hureau’s texts and e-mails document a failure to recognize that Ms. Hanson was an adolescent with an inherent immaturity in dealing with decisions related to relationships, especially between genders.”

The Yukon Human Rights Act defines sexual harassment 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.”

The board accepted that Hureau’s conduct was unwelcome based on Hanson’s testimony and her decision not to return to work.

However, the board also notably accepted that the standard for harassment is different in the case of a power imbalance.

“The standard applied to powerful harassers is not whether they knew their conduct was unwelcome but whether or not they should have known better.”

Either party has 30 days to submit a request if they want a specific remedy to be included with the board’s decision. They also could choose to bring the case to the Yukon Court of Appeal.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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