Harassment and Discrimination

Sexual harassment is one kind of harassment . . . in which unwelcome conduct or comments of a sexual nature create harm for another.  Generally speaking, there are two “brands” of sexual harassment: 

·       “quid pro quo” in which the harasser leverages his or her power to pressure or extract sexual favours from another.  The harm is generally in the form of actual or threatened economic loss.  In the university setting, the loss may be in the form of a good grade or evaluation.  For example, the harasser bargains with something of value – a good grade, a prime residency, or a job – in  exchange for sex or sexual attention.  An alternative example is where the harasser threatens with negative action or consequence IF sexual favours or attention are not available.  

·       “Hostile environment” refers to a workplace or classroom, in which there is a generalized tension, rooted in sexual power, and where such tension has a negative impact on a group or an individual.  Unlike quid pro quo harassment, the harm of a hostile environment is usually not economic or tangible, but is rather manifest in the form of a toxic or oppressive work environment. One example of the sexualized hostile environment is where lewd pictures of women or men are displayed in a cafeteria or work stations, fostering a sense of  humiliation and objectification of individuals because of their sex or gender [1].

But, what if the harm experienced by the individual or group was the result of an “innocent” joke or comment?    

The law looks to IMPACT not INTENT.  So, even if the “harasser” did not intend to be intimidating, demeaning, or otherwise hurtful, if the person on the receiving end experienced the behaviour as harmful, this may be a case of harassment.  To more fully flush out the impact of the incident, case law instructs us to query: whether a reasonable person in this situation would likely experience such behaviour as harmful 

 And, what if the harassing behaviour occurred once? Do we need to establish that there is a pattern of behaviour in order for it to be “harassment”?    

The behaviour need not be repeated in order for it to constitute harassment.  Again, we look to impact on the person who has been on the receiving end of the harassing behaviour. A single event, especially an egregious one, is enough to create harm.


 Crossing boundaries is a prerequisite to sexual and other harassment 

  Within a medical program, discrimination & harassment may arise in: 

  • Employment (faculty, residents, support staff)

  • Services (students)

  • Patients & public 


Employers are vicariously liable for the harassment and discriminatory acts committed by their employees.  

Discrimination may show up in: 

  • Policies, Rules, Standards, Practices, Services


Duty to Accommodate if related to the job or the course, in good faith, and is do-able without undue hardship. 

Religious observance, Disability, Family status (REASONABLE goes both ways) 


Question on harassment

1.A person who wishes to file a sexual harassment complaint must first contact someone internally (for example, a Sexual Harassment Officer) before undertaking any other steps, like contacting a provincial human rights commission.
True     False
2.When there is one alleged incident of sexual harassment, the supervisor or manager may be held accountable for the behaviours of his or her staff, even though he or she is not aware of the alleged incident.
True     False
3.There are as many men as women who experience sexual harassment.
True     False
4.If there is only one incident, it is not sexual harassment.
True     False
5.Sexual harassment allegations are generally false, unjustified or ill-motived or motivated by vengeance.
True     False
6.Provincial human rights legislation prevails on all collective agreements and on university policies.
True     False
7.Sexual harassment is a synonym to friendly flirting.
True     False
8.A formal procedure is the only available option to resolve an alleged situation of sexual harassment.
True     False
9.A party at a restaurant or a conference in another town can not be considered as the workplace or the study area.
True     False
10.The majority of sexual harassment complaints are resolved informally.
True     False
References for this Activity
1. Sexual Harassment Office http://www.harassment.uottawa.ca/sexual/quiz.html




1. Key Court Cases on Sexual Harassment: Canada (Treasury Board) v. Robichaud, [1987] 2 S.C.R. 84, 40 D.L.R. (4th) 577, 75 N.R. 303, 8 C.H.R.R. D/4326, 87 C.L.L.C. para. 17,025; Janzen v. Platy Enterprises Ltd., [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1252, 59 D.L.R. (4th) 352, 95 N.R. 81, [1989] 4 W.W.R. 39, 10 C.H.R.R. D/6205; Ontario (Human Rights Comm.) and O’Malley v. Simpsons-Sears Ltd., [1985] 2 S.C.R. 536, 23 D.L.R. (4th) 321, 64 N.R. 161, 7 C.H.R.R. D/3102, 9 C.C.E.L. 185

All references for this section