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Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 22, 2008
One of three recently released decisions by a human rights adjudication panel, the case involved numerous incidents occurring during a woman's employment at a city snowmobile dealership, Polar Tech.
The woman, Genevieve Savage, had taken a mechanic apprenticeship at the shop in May 2006.
Between that time and the day Savage walked off the job - Jan. 4, 2007 - the adjudicator found Savage suffered a string of "vexatious conduct."
Chief among those was "the dog food incident" in which one employee, Corey Dressler, shoved her to the ground and attempted to shove dog food in her mouth.
The incident, which occurred in August 2007, is when Savage said she realized "how bad it was."
"(He) grabbed a few kibbles and tried to shove it into my mouth. And I mean shoving . . . if my teeth wouldn't have been closed it would have been in my mouth because he had everything pushed up onto my face."
Dressler admitted there was an incident involving dog food, but denied the seriousness of it.
"I bent down and picked up some dog food and in a joking way said I'm gonna feed this to you and she was 'mmm-mmm-mmm.'
"And that was the end of it," Dressler said during the hearing, he put the dog food to her mouth because he didn't want other employees to think he was flirting with Savage.
There were other incidents during which employees tossed plastic silicon bits at Savage saying "here's your dildo" and frequently called her a "bitch."
"Genevieve Savage's demeanour during her testimony spoke volumes about how her dignity, self-respect and generally her life were profoundly adversely affected ... When she talked about some of the events that she had experienced at Polar Tech she literally appeared to shrink inside herself and looked broken and beaten," wrote adjudicator Joan Mercredi in her decision.
Polar Tech, Dressler and another employee, Billy Ryan, were jointly ordered to pay Savage $15,000 in compensation for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect.
Ryan was ordered to pay Savage an additional $5,000 for a "malicious campaign of harassment" against her; Dressler was ordered to pay $2,500. Polar Tech was further ordered to pay Savage $9,220.33 in lost wages.
Savage was also awarded $1,450 for counselling.
"I'm not happy about this decision," said Gord Olson, owner of Polar Tech.
He added he felt his company was "made an example of."
Olson said he was told by a member working for the panel that no case in the territory has ever awarded more than $5,000 "so getting a lawyer is going to cost you more."
"So we went in and defended ourselves and lost. We didn't hide anything," he said.
Olson added the adjudicator actually said in her decision "I make no order for exemplary or punitive damages against Polar Tech. Although (Olson's) attempts to discipline ... were ineffective and therefore enabled the harassment and discrimination to continue repeatedly, (Olson) nevertheless did act as soon as he had knowledge of their conduct towards Ms. Savage."
But the company ended up getting fined $25,000 anyway.
"If I were to do it again I would get a lawyer and not walk in there without one. I was misled, totally," he said.