Human rights board rules in favour of sisters in workplace harassment case

The Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication has ruled in favour of two Whitehorse sisters whose former employer harassed them and called them derogatory names, including “squaws.”

The Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication has ruled in favour of two Whitehorse sisters whose former employer harassed them and called them derogatory names, including “squaws.”

The board has awarded Suzannah Simon and Bobbi-Jean Simon $2,500 each in damages, to be paid by Rhonda Sallows, owner of White Tornado Cleaning Services. The decision comes after a hearing held in Whitehorse on Jan. 27.

The sisters worked for Sallows for a brief period in 2015 as cleaners on the construction site of the new F.H. Collins Secondary School. Suzannah, age 36 at the time of the complaint, testified that she is Gwich’in and a member of the Inuvik Native Band. Bobbi-Jean, 27 at the time, is a member of the Tetlit Gwich’in First Nation.

The sisters worked several shifts for Sallows in July 2015. According to the decision, Suzannah testified that “there would be a lot of swearing and yelling” when Sallows showed up to the work site.

The sisters claimed that Sallows pocket-dialled Bobbi-Jean’s phone when they were on their way to get their first cheques from her on July 14. They overheard her referring to them as “stupid-ass bitches.”

Suzannah and Bobbi-Jean decided to quit on July 23. According to Suzannah’s testimony, she felt that Sallows was “putting her down, belittling her,” the decision says.

After Bobbi-Jean sent Sallows a text message on July 27 about getting the remainder of their pay, Sallows responded with a string of angry messages, calling the sisters “squaws,” “pill poppers” and “FAS kuds,” presumably meaning “FAS kids.”

She also left a voicemail on Bobbi-Jean’s phone, in which she again called them “squaws.”

Suzannah testified that the word “squaw” bothered her most, and that it was racist. Bobbi-Jean said it was “hard to talk about how the comments made her feel, as her younger brother suffers from FASD,” according to the decision. The sisters filed a human rights complaint on Aug. 7, 2015.

Sallows submitted a response to the human rights complaint, but refused to attend the hearing. As a result, her response was given no weight as evidence.

In its decision, the board found that “squaw” is a “gendered, racist pejorative targeting Indigenous women.” It also found that Sallows’ reference to fetal alcohol syndrome was “rooted in the racist stereotype that First Nations people are alcohol-abusers.”

Therefore, it found that Sallows had harassed the sisters “by reference to both race and sex.”

Based on a similar case from British Columbia, the board awarded each of the sisters $2,500 in damages, to be paid by Sallows, for the “injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect caused by this discrimination.”

The Yukon Human Rights Commission had sought an award of $7,500 for each sister.

Neither the Simon sisters nor Sallows could be reached by deadline.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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