• Archives

  • Canadian Sexual Harassment Pioneer Speaks Out

    In 1982, Dianna Evangeline (known as Dianna Janzen at the time) was 21 and a waitress in Winnipeg. She and a fellow waitress, Tracy Govereau, were subject to sexual harassment and verbal abuse by a male cook. The story is shockingly common: the cook made sexual advances towards the women, they said no, then; he became abusive and threatening. When the women spoke to their manager, he told them there was nothing he could do about it. Evangeline eventually quit, while Govereau was fired, after their work was adversely affected by the abuse.

    Yes, the Neanderthals are still out there today. But thanks to women like Evangeline who paved the way; there are laws protecting both sexes in the workplace and employers can’t beg off responsibility.

    In 1983, Evangeline and Govereau filed their complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission against the owners of the restaurant, Platy Enterprises Ltd., a now defunct company. It took six years for the case to reach the Supreme Court of Canada, but in May of 1989, the landmark ruling was handed down that allowed for employers to be held responsible for the sexual harassment perpetrated by its employees.

    The United States Supreme Court had held similarly in 1986 in the case Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, and articulated the standards for analyzing whether conduct is unlawful and the conditions under which an employer can be held liable for the harassment actions of it’s employees. A sexual harassment lawyer in California can help you to determine if these standards are applicable to you or someone you know suffering sexual harassment in the workplace.

    Evangeline was invited to speak at a Canadian national human rights convention held this past week in Manitoba and for the first time brought her tribulations to the public. She articulated the insecurity she felt that the abuse was somehow her fault and how she stopped wearing make-up to work to discourage the attention. She also talked about how long it took her to regain her confidence after the trials. Now with two adult children of her own (aged 18 and 20), she sees that the battle for human rights continues, and that while the laws may have changed, behaviors in the workplace have not.

    Under U.S. federal law, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment is generally defined as any unwelcomed sexual advances, or other verbal or physical harassment that is sexual in nature, including but not limited to requests for sexual favors. California state law also prohibits sexual harassment. So you don’t need to sit idly by if you are harassed and employers cannot merely stick their heads in the sand here.

    To hold an employer liable for the harassment conduct of an employee, however, requires a “hostile work environment” or that the work conditions be affected by the harassment. Isolated incidents are not enough. Seeking the advice of a sexual harassment lawyer in California can help if you believe that you have suffered workplace harassment.