Canada: A Haphazard Sexual Harassment Investigation – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


Melissa Doyle, a well-educated woman who had worked with Zochem Inc. for nine years, supervised an all-male group of refinery workers. The workplace culture was dominated by the Maintenance Supervisor's "male locker room" mentality.  On his office walls were pictures of scantily clad women.  He expected Ms. Doyle to act like "one of the boys", by sharing details of her dating life, laughing at his lewd jokes and engaging in otherwise unwelcome sexual banter.  Ms. Doyle depended on his assistance and support in her role as Plant Supervisor.

In 2010, Ontario enacted Bill 168, which requires employers to develop and implement policies and procedures to curb workplace violence and harassment. Zochem engaged a third party to conduct a workplace assessment and identify any issues of concern.  During the process, Ms. Doyle disclosed the harassment.  She hoped that the new legislation would help her by improving the workplace, but without losing the Maintenance Supervisor's support or risking her job.  The third party concluded that Zochem had a culture of intimidation, bullying and verbal abuse; 40 percent of its employees were concerned about violence and harassment in the workplace.  The accompanying report made recommendations that Zochem implement sensitivity training to address acceptable and unacceptable conduct in the workplace.  There was no evidence that the recommendations were ever implemented.

After Bill 168 passed into law, Ms. Doyle confronted the Maintenance Supervisor directly. His comments stopped but, after a brief hiatus, the harassment resumed and he refused to provide her with the necessary help to do her job.  When she asked the Chief Engineer to intervene, she was belittled and insulted.  She left that meeting in tears.

At the time, both the Maintenance Supervisor and the Chief Engineer were aware that Ms. Doyle's employment was going to be terminated without cause, for alleged poor performance. Ms. Doyle, unaware of this, reported the conduct to which she was being subjected to the Assistant General Manager.  Having already drafted the termination letter to be issued to Ms. Doyle, the Assistant General Manager responded by telling her to stop being so emotional.  A cursory "investigation" was conducted into Ms. Doyle's sexual harassment complaint – the first such investigation.  The Assistant General Manager asked for a written statement from one of the two men identified, who responded by accusing Ms. Doyle of sexualized behaviour at the plant.  This accusation was never put to Ms. Doyle and she was not asked for any written statement in reply.  The Assistant General Manager reminded the two men that engaging in workplace joking could be viewed as harassment.  She then terminated Ms. Doyle's employment without telling her the outcome of the investigation.

After the termination of her employment, Ms. Doyle spiralled into a major depressive disorder with anxiety. She applied for short-term disability benefits, which were self-funded by Zochem.  The Assistant General Manager received a physician's report confirming Ms. Doyle's disability, but denied the claim after an investigation.

Ms. Doyle filed a wrongful dismissal claim and sought moral damages, aggravated damages, punitive damages, damages for the cost of future care, and damages for breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code arising from the "poisonous" work environment and the retaliatory termination following her complaint. Zochem responded by pleading "after-acquired cause".

Finding no evidence of after-acquired cause, the trial judge found that the dismissal was wrongful and awarded Ms. Doyle damages over a 10-month notice period. After finding no documented concerns regarding Ms. Doyle's performance, the judge held that the manner in which Ms. Doyle had been dismissed from employment warranted moral damages in the amount of $60,000.  The Assistant General Manager had known that Ms. Doyle suffered from clinical depression at the time of termination; her response to the sexual harassment complaint made by Ms. Doyle bordered on cruel; the self-serving investigation was patently unfair; the termination itself was "cold and brusque"; and the "take it or leave it" severance offer made to Ms. Doyle would have resulted in her giving up her rights under the Human Rights Code.

Regarding the claim for damages under the Human Rights Code, the trial judge awarded Ms. Doyle $25,000, finding that Zochem had conducted itself improperly after receiving her complaint. The judge found that Zochem had an obligation to investigate Ms. Doyle's complaint properly, and a one-day investigation conducted by an inexperienced and biased investigator was wholly unreasonable.  The Assistant General Manager did not take the third party's workplace assessment or Ms. Doyle's complaint seriously, and had singled her out for termination.  The trial judge opined that hiring an experienced and independent outside investigator would have been a wiser course of action.

Tips for Employers

Sexual harassment investigations can be extremely complex, particularly in male-dominated workplaces. This case highlights the need for independent and thorough investigations and demonstrates the liability that an employer can incur if it fails to meet its obligations in this regard.

Retaining a skilled external investigator, particularly for complex issues such as bullying, harassment or sexual harassment, or where credibility is a live issue, not only protects the employer from liability, but can greatly assist in creating a productive and thriving workplace culture where employees feel safe and respected.

Previously printed in the LexisNexis Labour Notes Newsletter.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Julie Menten
Events from this Firm
23 Nov 2017, Workshop, Vancouver, Canada

Managing and accommodating employees with disabilities is one of the more complex issues faced by employers today. The complexity of this issue only increases when seeking to manage and accommodate those employees who are afflicted with chronic or episodic disabilities.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.