A woman who was sexually harassed, assaulted and abused by her boss while working as a personal assistant has received the province’s highest-ever award for this type of discrimination, according to B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal.
In a decision earlier this month, Sydney Richard Hayden was ordered to pay the complainant, referred to as Ms. L, $100,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect – an unprecedented amount that the tribunal said was warranted because of the “extremely serious” nature of the discrimination, the length of time over which it took place, the complaint’s vulnerability, and its devastating impact.
“During her employment, Mr. Hayden sexually assaulted and harassed Ms. L, withheld her wages, emotionally abused her, physically assaulted her, and abandoned her in a foreign country,” tribunal member Devyn Cousineau wrote.
“She is now a completely different person than she was before the discrimination,” Cousineau later wrote.
Employment relationship ‘poisoned’ by abuse
Ms. L was claiming discrimination based on sex and disability, bringing the complaint against Hayden and his two companies Clear Pacific Holdings Ltd. and Whitehawk Investments Ltd.
“This complaint arises out of a 21-month employment relationship poisoned by sexual, economic, emotional, and physical abuse,” the decision says.
Hayden never filed a response and did not appear at the hearing, which proceeded without him in August of 2023.
There is no indication from the decision that Hayden was ever criminally charged with or convicted of a crime. The tribunal is not required to determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but instead whether it is more likely than not that the alleged events occurred, and if so, whether they were discriminatory.
In addition to Ms. L’s testimony, the tribunal says it considered a range of corroborating evidence including text messages, emails, photos, and expert reports when deciding if she had proven her claim. Cousineau also noted that her decision was “consistent with the separate findings of the Employment Standards Branch and WorkSafe BC.”
Sexual harassment and assault
Ms. L worked for Hayden from January 2018 until October 2019. During that time, the tribunal said Ms. L was subject to routine sexual harassment which included unwanted touching, and sexual comments.
“During the winter he kept the house extremely hot so that she would wear less clothing. He would get her wet, by splashing her with water, so that she would have to change into his clothes while her clothes dried. He made her play truth or dare, making her do sexualized and humiliating dares, like bending down or kneeling in front of him or wearing his robe. He asked her to tell him her ‘price’ to take off her clothes as he piled stacks of money in front of her. He made her kneel in front of him and ask him to be her mentor,” Cousineau wrote, describing what happened in the early stages of Ms. L’s employment.
“He was ‘handsy’ and would sit too close. Ms. L says Mr. Hayden’s behaviour was ‘gross’ and she felt ‘overwhelmed.'”
When she worked for Hayden, Ms. L was dependent on cocaine, which she told him. He would encourage her to use drugs at his home and provide her with drugs and alcohol.
“He exploited her disability, a substance use disorder, to maintain control over her,” the decision says.
Less than two months after she started working for Hayden, the tribunal decision says he sexually assaulted he while she was in a state she described as “blackout” and “beyond sick” after being given alcohol, cocaine and pills.
“Eventually, she was able to scream,” the decision says, noting that Hayden first insisted she stay at his house but eventually gave her a ride home.
Sexual harassment and assault are “sex discrimination, rooted in an abuse of power,” Cousineau wrote, explaining that the power Hayden had was both gendered, as a man, and economic, as an employer.
Hayden never paid Ms. L in a “regular or consistent way.” This meant, according to Cousineau, that “he almost always owed her money, and she was required to keep coming back to him to collect it.”
The need for money, Hayden’s written apology and fear that he would “ruin her” all led Ms. L to return to work where the “pervasive harassment” continued, the decision says, outlining behaviours ranging from sending sexually suggestive memes to more unwanted touching to threatening to fire her if she did not go skinny dipping with him to telling her he “f**cking owns” her, the decision says.
“He messaged her at all hours of day and night, frequently expecting her to come over to his house. Throughout 2018, with Mr. Hayden’s encouragement, Ms. L was relying heavily on cocaine and drinking a lot – more than she ever had,” it continues.
‘Fighting for her life’ during physical assault
In 2019, Hayden convinced Ms. L to go with him on a sailing trip to Mexico – promising her a five-year contract in return and telling her parents that he “promised to keep her safe.”
As the departure date approached, Ms. L said she felt like she was having a “nervous breakdown” and visited the hospital on more than one occasion for chest pains and panic attacks.
On the trip, Hayden physically assaulted Ms. L, according to the decision, which says he punched her, kicked her and threw her down the stairs. He also tried to command his dog to attack her. After she got away and locked herself in a room, Hayden kicked the door in and attacked her again.
“Ms. L was fighting, screaming as loud as she could. She thought that Mr. Hayden was going to kill her. She was fighting for her life. To this day, she believes that if the boat had not been docked, she would have been killed,” the decision says.
Marina security responded and carried Ms. L off the boat.
“She was shaking, hyperventilating, and struggling to breathe. The marina staff took photographs of her injuries, which are in evidence, and guarded her hotel room for the rest of the night,” the decision says.
In the following days, Ms. L had no money of her own. Hayden had left Mexico and his promises to transfer her wages to her went unfulfilled. After eight days, she found her way to San Diego, where she called her family who paid for a flight home.
She would never go back to work for Hayden, although he did try to convince her to return while also continuing to withhold the wages he owed her.
‘Lifelong impact’ of the discrimination
Cousineau’s decision summarizes why the tribunal found that Hayden had discriminated against Ms. L.
“All of his abuses were connected to her sex and substance use disorder, which were foundational to the power imbalance that allowed him to continuously sexually harass and humiliate her, manipulate her emotionally, and withhold her wages. The physical assault, triggered by jealousy about Ms. L’s interactions with other men, was the ultimate manifestation of his dominance over her, and was inherently gendered,” she wrote.
The seriousness of the discrimination Ms. L was subjected to was one of the factors Cousineau considered when deciding to award $100,000 for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect. Another was the “lifelong impact on all aspects of her life.”
An expert report from a psychologist found that Ms. L developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the 2018 sexual assault, which triggered memories of the other assaults she had experienced in her life and “made her feel like she was being raped all over again,” the decision says.
The subsequent sexual harassment “exacerbated” Ms. L’s PTSD and the symptoms became more pronounced in the period leading up to the boat trip to Mexico.
“Over the period of her employment, Ms. L required medical attention multiple times, including for panic attacks, drug overdoses, and other stress-related symptoms,” the decision says. The stress of working for Hayden became “chronic” and “her functioning was declining.” The 2019 physical assault, the decision says, “aggravated” her PTSD to the point where she could no longer work and could barely function.
Ms. L also testified about the ongoing symptoms of her PTSD, including insomnia, paranoia, nightmares panic attacks, difficulty concentrating, and near-constant fear. Before she worked for Hayden, Ms. L told the tribunal she was confident, social, adventurous and joyful. The decision outlines some of the “profound” ways her day-to-day life has changed since.
“She hardly goes out except to see the various specialists who are supporting her. She cannot be out in a crowd, including for grocery shopping or other daily tasks. … She no longer sings or takes long showers. She relies on a strict schedule and requires advance notice and preparation to go out. She has almost no social life and has lost many of her friends. There are parts of her city that she used to love, where she still cannot go,” the decision says.
“Four years after the assault, she can go across the street to the pharmacy and can use the bus. She can check her mail… However, there is still a long way to go,” it later adds.
In addition to the $100,000, Ms. L was also awarded $61,541.90 as compensation for lost wages and $8,699.84 for expenses.
The decision ends with a quote from Ms. L.
“I never thought I would be able to get to today and be able to do this. This is for me like taking back my power and being able to tell my truth,” it reads, in part.
“I want to have joy. I want to be me again, I do. I’m hopeful,” it concludes.