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Friday 13 December 2019
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EOT dismisses sexual harassment case against woman

Attorney at Law Shankar Bidaisee leaving the Equal Opportunity Tribunal Court this morning. Photo by Vashti Singh - Vashti Singh
Attorney at Law Shankar Bidaisee leaving the Equal Opportunity Tribunal Court this morning. Photo by Vashti Singh - Vashti Singh

A man who took offence at being called "bae" and "hot" and slapped on his buttocks by a woman at work has lost his case for sexual harassment.

Justice Prowell-Raphael of the Equal Opportunity Tribunal (EOT), in delivering her judgment today in Chaguanas, dismissed the case and ordered the man, Rishi Persad Maharaj, to pay legal costs to the Cascadia Hotel.

Maharaj, who worked as a customer service/quality assurance co-ordinator, filed the case against the hotel, the respondent.

Maharaj claimed he was employed there on September 4, 2014 and terminated on October 5 the next year.

Between March and September 2015, he claimed the woman, his director of operations, used inappropriate words such as "sexy," "baby," "hot" and "bae." She even slapped him on the buttocks and pinched his waist.

Prowell-Raphael, reviewing the case, said Maharaj asserted that the respondent was vicariously responsible for the alleged harassment.

On November 17, 2015, he lodged a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) on the basis of discrimination in employment based on sexual harassment and victimisation.

( left) Rishi Persad Maharaj leaving the Equal Opportunity Tribunal Court Chaguanas , with his Attorney at Law Stacey Mc Sween . Photo by Vashti Singh - Vashti Singh

A month later, on December 15, he reported a trade dispute through his union to the Labour Ministry.

The respondent asserted that Maharaj disclosed during its interview process that he was homosexual, which Maharaj has not disputed.

The respondent also claimed Maharaj’s relationship with the director of operations deteriorated after he blocked her on WhatsApp and avoided contact with her.

The respondent further submitted that the woman is a wife and mother of three children, an upstanding citizen and a graduate of the University of the West Indies in literature and economics. She was said to have zero tolerance for discrimination, demoralising and disrespectful behaviour.

Attorneys for the hotel also averred that Maharaj’s employer was Banquet and Conference Centre Ltd (BCCL) and not Cascadia Hotel. BCCL and the hotel are separate legal entities and therefore he submitted the wrong entity before the tribunal.

The judge ruled that Maharaj was employed "at all material times" by BCCL and not by the hotel. BCCL was not the respondent before the tribunal and has not been named in the referral.

She dismissed the proceedings and claims for damages by way of sexual harassment. She also ordered Maharaj to pay the respondent’s costs, to be assessed by the registrar in default of agreement.

Attorneys Sankar Bidaisee, instructed by Rachael Latchme Jaggernauth, represented the hotel.

Attorney Lemuel Murphy, instructed by Stacey Mc Sween, represented Maharaj.

Lay assessor Leela Ramdeen, who formed part of the tribunal and sat next to Prowell-Raphael, spoke to the media after the matter ended.

She called for legislation "specifically to deal with sexual harassment" and to define what "sex" means.The EOT Act, she said, does not cover sexual harassment.

Ramdeen said, "We, the tribunal, cannot stretch 'sex' to go beyond male and female.

"Parliament alone has that power to make laws. If we are to give citizens the opportunity to bring an action for sexual harassment, then Parliament has to pass legislation. I cannot see why it takes so long for legislation."

The draft policy on sexual harassment laid in March by Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus in Parliament is not enough, Ramdeen charged.

"We need legislation to give that policy teeth. That policy is toothless."

Referring toMaharaj’s case, Ramdeen added: "If there was legislation, that gentleman would have come and have his day in court. The other issue he had is, in law, you cannot deal with the issue and try to get money twice. He settled the dispute – then he comes here."

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