Canadian courts don’t have a great track record of accommodating sexual harassment complainants, but an Ontario court decision could help change that.
On the face of it, it’s a wrongful termination suit.
Mark Render contends he was inappropriately dismissed with cause from his job of 30 years with ThyssenKrupp Elevator Ltd. following an investigation into allegations he sexually harassed his colleague, Linda Vieira. Although Vieira is just a witness in the lawsuit, which heads to trial this fall, Ottawa-based employment lawyer Andrew Vey said it’s quite clear the outcome will hinge on whether the judge finds her credible.
“That’s really what’s going to drive the decision in this case at the end of the day,” Vey said.
In recognition of that, Master Graham of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice made a novel decision: Vieira can have her own lawyer. Typically courts limit such interventions to experts like civil liberties associations in cases where there is concern someone’s rights have been unlawfully infringed upon.
“It’s very important,” Vey said, especially given the blowback many witnesses or complainants of sexual harassment face in the court and after in the public eye.
In representing Vieira as a witness, lawyer David Butt hasn’t been given carte blanche to weigh in on all aspects of the case. On this, Master Graham was very clear: “My decision is therefore not to be interpreted as providing trial witnesses generally with the right to intervene and have their own counsel at trial.”
While ThyssenKrupp’s lawyer has the ability to cross-examine Render, Butt will also be able to cross-examine him “on matters related to Ms. Vieira’s personal interest in her reputation and integrity.” Butt will also be able to object to questions other lawyers may ask Vieira on the stand and make brief opening and closing statements at the trial.
First published at http://yourlegalrights.on.ca/news/theres-new-legal-protection-sexual-harassment-complainants