Your client tells you she was fired from her job. But she explains the termination came after her employer sexually harassed her and she threatened to go to HR. What steps should she take?
Associate at MacLeod Law Firm, Toronto and Barrie
You may be the first person she’s told, so tell your client what she went through isn’t OK and it’s not her fault, says Nicole Simes, a lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm. Then, explain she has two legal options: file a lawsuit for wrongful termination and sexual harassment, or bring a claim to her provincial human rights tribunal.
“You can’t do both,” Simes says. “Our justice system thinks it’s a bad idea to have two decisions on the exact same thing because there’s a possibility the decision makers could decide the matter differently.”
Which route is more beneficial depends on various factors, cost being the first. The client should have a lawyer in both cases, but the human rights tribunal route is more “streamlined,” she says, so it can cost less. And courts have filing fees.
However, human rights tribunals don’t award legal fees. “If you pay $20,000 in legal fees and you win, you don’t get that money back,” Simes says. “In court, if you win you get some portion of your legal fees reimbursed, typically between 60% and 90%.”
Suggest that your client get legal advice before making a decision. If she doesn’t do that or can’t afford to, you could help the client perform research online. “The [Ontario] Human Rights Legal Support Centre offers free summary advice or representation to cases they think have a possibility of being successful,” Simes says.