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Sex harassment, discrimination complaints against District of Squamish dismissed

Former fire department clerk claims she was terminated due to her gender


The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a sexual harassment and discrimination complaint filed against the District of Squamish by a former employee.

On Feb. 24, 2015, Rosanne Sones, who worked for the district fire department, filed a complaint alleging discrimination, claiming she was terminated on the basis of her gender.

The former fire rescue clerk also alleged she was subjected to repeated sexual harassment by the chief and other members of the department over the course of her five-year employment, consisting of "sexual innuendo, personal questions, name calling, jokes and comments about other women, as well as actual, unwelcome physical contact," according to court documents. She said the district did not respond to the ongoing harassment and even appeared to condone it.

In Aug. 2013, the district issued Sones a letter of expectations regarding her conduct following an incident between her and another employee. Sones and her union requested the letter be removed from her personnel file, and, when it wasn't, the district claimed Sones "overreacted."

Months later, in November, Sones was granted reduced work hours on the basis of medical advice. Following that, the district claimed Sones declined to train other employees as requested. She characterized these requests as harassment and threats, while the district considered her response as insubordination.

The following month, Sones went on extended medical leave, allegedly due to the harassment, before filing an internal written complaint with the district in Jan. 2014. An investigation into Sones' relationship with the department was initiated on Jan 24, and, three days later, the district said Sones put her allegations in writing for the first time. She was absent from work as of Jan. 30.

An independent investigation launched into the claims found no evidence of an intimidating or hostile workplace and no violations to the district's workplace policy.

In the months that followed, the district began the process of facilitating Sones' return to work. The district claimed to have asked Sones to return to work on Sept. 17, 2014, which she declined due to unresolved issues unrelated to her complaints. When she did not attend a meeting scheduled for Sept. 22, the district "advised her that it considered her to have resigned." Sones claimed she was terminated the next day.

Ultimately the tribunal sided with the district, finding that Sones' employer terminated her due to her failure to retun to work, not her gender, and gave her "many opportunities to know the consequences of not returning to work and those pleas were seemingly ignored."

The tribunal also dismissed Sones' harassment complaint, ruling that most of her allegations were "largely not detailed or particularized and certainly undated."

Human rights complaints in B.C. must be filed within six months of the last alleged instance, outside of several exceptions. In Sones' case, her complaint was filed in Feb. 2015, and there were no allegations of harassment claimed to have occurred after Aug. 24, 2014. Considering she was absent from work as of late January 2014, the tribunal decided not to allow her late-filed complaint.

"Ms. Sones contends that the alleged discrimination and the District's failure to accommodate her in various forms continued until her termination," wrote tribunal member Catherine McCreary. "However, insofar as she was no longer in the workplace, I can only conclude that, from the perspective of the timeliness of the complaint, there could be no sexual harassment after Jan. 27, 2014."