Sexual harassment finding appealed

Mark Hureau has appealed the Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication decision that found he sexually harassed Devon Hanson while she worked for him at Intersport in Whitehorse.

Mark Hureau has appealed the Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication decision that found he sexually harassed Devon Hanson while she worked for him at Intersport in Whitehorse.

Hureau has asked that the Supreme Court of Yukon cancel the board’s decision and conduct a new hearing. He has also asked that the board pay the costs of the appeal.

The board found in its Aug. 21 decision 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.

Hureau has appealed this decision based on a list of grievances, mostly related to improperly applying tests of law and improperly weighing evidence.

Board decisions can only be appealed on grounds that a legal error has been made. The courts cannot challenge the facts of the case.

Hureau, co-owner of Intersport Whitehorse, was 43 and Hanson’s employer and basketball coach when the alleged harassment occurred. 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.

The board’s decision includes one correspondence where 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 e-mail 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.”

The decision also includes communications to Hanson where 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.”

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

However, they also found the age difference, 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.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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