Workplace sex assault investigation caused 'most difficult 7 months of my life,' transit worker says

·4 min read
A Canada Line attendant has filed a lawsuit claiming operator Protrans B.C.'s investigation in her sexual assault allegations 'profoundly and negatively' affected her life. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A Canada Line attendant has filed a lawsuit claiming operator Protrans B.C.'s investigation in her sexual assault allegations 'profoundly and negatively' affected her life. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains claims of sexual assault that some people might find distressing.

A Canada Line attendant who alleges she was sexually assaulted and harassed by her boss at a company party has filed suit against her employers, alleging she was left traumatized and unable to work because of their investigation into the incident.

A.H.'s lawsuit says she chose not to speak up about what happened to her at the time of the 2010 party, but was compelled to participate when Protrans B.C., which operates the rapid-transit Canada Line in Metro Vancouver, opened an investigation 11 years later. Because she is the alleged victim of a sexual assault, CBC has agreed not to use her full name.

She alleges the company learned about her experience while looking into someone else's complaint against the same supervisor.

A.H.'s notice of claim says she was "profoundly and negatively" affected by the investigation, which ended with no consequences for supervisor A.D., who still has control over nearly every aspect of her working life.

She said she and her husband, who both work under A.D., are now off work because of stress from this process.

"This has been the most difficult seven months of my life, my family's life, all because I told the truth. I now understand why people — women in particular — have been afraid to speak up [about sexual assault]," A.H. told CBC in a written statement.

Her notice of claim, filed March 1 in B.C. Supreme Court, alleges A.D. is liable for sexual battery and harassment, and holds Protrans B.C. and parent company SNC-Lavalin vicariously liable, saying they violated their standards and duty of care to employees.

In their May 13 response, the corporations claim their internal investigation found the alleged assault "did not occur, as alleged or at all." It goes on to say that all reasonable steps were taken to keep workers safe.

The companies argue that because A.H. has filed a mental health claim with WorkSafeBC related to this experience and her union has filed a grievance, the courts have no jurisdiction to hear the case.

A.D. has yet to file a response to the claims against him, and has not responded to requests for comment.

According to A.H.'s claim, he retains power over her "training, working hours, variance approvals, job security and job duties."

'Entitled to choose' whether to report

The alleged assault happened at a party at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C., held to celebrate the end of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, according to the notice of claim.

A.H. alleges A.D. came up behind her at the party, thrust his erect penis on her upper thigh, and pressed himself against her body.

Later that night, while she was sleeping in her hotel room, she alleges A.D. "went door to door at the hotel, screaming the plaintiff's name and searching for the plaintiff, which threatened and intimidated the plaintiff."

The claim states that in the aftermath of that night, "as a survivor, [she] was entitled to choose and did choose not to pursue anything" in terms of reporting A.D.

"Many years later [in] 2021, the corporate defendants made her do so, when another complainant made a complaint against [A.D.] and opened an investigation as to his present and historical conduct," the claim says.

A.H. told CBC that she had just started the job at the time, and "What new employee would want to rock the boat at their new career? It was easier at the time to put it in the back of my mind."

Ken stocker/Shutterstock
Ken stocker/Shutterstock

When the 2021 investigation was launched, she said she agreed to be interviewed partly because she believes in the importance of telling the truth, but also because she worried about the consequences if she didn't take part.

At the time, SNC-Lavalin's code of conduct stated that employees "must always … fully, truthfully and transparently co-operate" with internal investigations, and failure to do so "may lead to disciplinary measures, including dismissal."

A.H.'s claim says the investigation ended with "no reasonable results, rather A.D., a repeat sexual offender, was allowed to continue on in his role as the plaintiff's supervisor unabated."

It goes on to say that "the lack of effective results made it impossible for the plaintiff to continue in her employment."

The corporations' response alleges the investigation did not corroborate A.H.'s allegations, but does not provide any more specifics about the findings.

A.H. alleges she's suffered "severe emotional injuries" because of this experience, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, insomnia, anxiety, paranoia and intrusive thoughts. She's asking for damages from her employer and A.D., as well her past and future health-care costs.

Trial dates have been scheduled for July 2023, but Protrans B.C. and SNC-Lavalin have applied for a dismissal of the lawsuit, arguing the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal has jurisdiction in the matter.

None of the allegations in the lawsuit or the response have been proven in court.

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