Human rights hearing concludes

The hearing into a human rights complaint by two former daycare workers who allege they were sexually harassed while working at Childhood Discoveries Preschool wrapped up on Friday.

The hearing into a human rights complaint by two former daycare workers who allege they were sexually harassed while working at Childhood Discoveries Preschool wrapped up on Friday.

Willow Lacosse and Jessica Dyck filed complaints against Christina Hassard, owner of the now-closed Riverdale daycare in 2012, shortly after they stopped working there. They allege that their supervisor, Mike Gustus, made sexually inappropriate jokes that made it difficult for them to do their jobs. The close relationship between Hassard and Gustus made it difficult to complain, and ultimately contributed to both workers losing their jobs, they allege.

The Human Rights Board of Adjudication heard the case last week.

Under Yukon’s Human Rights Act, employers are responsible for the discriminatory actions of their staff. If Hassard had created a more positive workplace environment, the harassment would not have happened, the women allege.

But not all former employees think the daycare was a negative place to work. “I loved working there,” Carrie Wilkinson told the tribunal. She worked at Childhood Discoveries from November 2011 until the spring of 2012, when it closed. Wilkinson said it was one of the best jobs she’s ever had.

Wilkinson, 34, has known Gustus for 18 years, she told the tribunal. Some of his jokes can be interpreted sexually, she said.

“OK, he told a joke,” she said. “But it was labelled as a joke.” Other staff also made inappropriate jokes, said Wilkinson.

One time, Gustus told the staff a joke his daughter had learned at school. It was a pun on “seamen” and “semen,” Wilkinson told the tribunal. But Gustus made it in front of staff, not children, and asked if he could tell it before he started, said Wilkinson. Dyck left the room before the joke was made, said Wilkinson.

Dyck testified Gustus told her he was going to “sweep her off her feet” one day while he was sweeping the floor. Wilkinson also remembered this, but she told the tribunal she didn’t think it was inappropriate. Gustus was using a large broom and could have just been asking Dyck to get out of the way, she said.

Wilkinson never felt sexually harassed by Gustus, she said. She didn’t know Lacosse felt this way until she heard her mention it right before she left the daycare, she said. Lacosse’s comments were shocking, said Wilkinson.

The same day, Gustus asked Wilkinson if she found his jokes sexually offensive, said Wilkinson. She told him she didn’t.

It was obvious Lacosse didn’t always get along with Gustus, said Wilkinson. She heard Lacosse call him a “dirty old man,” she told the tribunal. Lacosse had a bad attitude and was often late to work, she said.

Wilkinson felt comfortable raising concerns about the workplace to Hassard, she said. She told Hassard she was concerned Mike had too many jobs. This was addressed at a staff meeting, she said.

Wilkinson works with Gustus at another daycare. “Since these accusations, he’s a completely different person,” she said. Before, Gustus was outgoing. Now, he doesn’t seem sure who to talk to at work, she said. “He’s not the Mike I knew.”

Lacosse and Dyck have also filed complaints against Gustus. But those were settled, Colleen Harrington, lawyer for the human rights commission told reporters last week.

The parties have until March 22 to prepare written closing statements. These statements will give the parties’ suggestions for appropriate actions. They will also summarize the relevant evidence.

That may be tricky. Much of the testimony was not about sexual harassment, but instead meandered from menu guidelines to whether staff added each other as friends on Facebook. The case was originally scheduled to end Thursday, but lasted until Friday afternoon.

The parties will give oral responses to the written statements on March 28. After that, the board will make its decision.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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