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Sleep Country employee’s sexual-harassment complaint dismissed

Sleep Country Canada preside Christine Magee says the company does not condone what happened.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

B.C.'s Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a sexual-harassment complaint from a Sleep Country employee, ruling the woman's case had no prospect of success because she at times participated in the crude sexual banter.

Adele Kafer, the employee, filed her complaint against the mattress company and a co-worker, alleging sexual harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation. She acknowledged she participated in the sexual banter at the North Vancouver store, but said she only did it to be part of the group.

Sleep Country Canada and the co-worker, Arif Arjania, said the banter occurred and was common. But they denied the incidents Ms. Kafer pointed to amounted to discrimination.

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Marlene Tyshynski, the tribunal's adjudicator, agreed with Sleep Country's assessment, ruling Ms. Kafer could not prove the conduct was unwelcome from an objective point of view.

"There is extensive material filed that appears to support that Ms. Kafer was a fully participating player in the crude sexualized conduct and language in the workplace," the adjudicator wrote in her ruling, posted on the tribunal's website earlier this week.

The adjudicator said Ms. Kafer acknowledged participating in several specific incidents of crude banter and did not expressly deny many others. Eleven people that provided affidavits for the respondents said Ms. Kafer frequently engaged in "dirty talk."

Ms. Kafer, in addition to her claim that she only did it to fit in, countered with a list of words she did not use in the workplace, and detailed explanations for some of the words she did.

The adjudicator did add that under different circumstances Ms. Kafer's allegations could have amounted to sexual harassment.

"It is not a defence for the respondents to say that the workplace had a culture of sexualized joking and conduct. The employer has a duty to provide a workplace free of sexual harassment," she wrote.

Clea Parfitt, Ms. Kafer's lawyer, did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

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Christine Magee, Sleep Country Canada's president and co-founder, said in an interview the company has for 19 years developed a culture of professionalism and provided an environment that is rewarding for its employees.

She said the company does not condone what happened, and has a specific policy around harassment and bullying.

"As a company, this is not the type of environment we would ever support," she said.

Ms. Kafer's complaint outlined a few specific examples of what she said was discrimination.

In July, 2012, she said Mr. Arjania yelled a sexual reference at her from across the room. She said she told him not to speak to her that way and he responded that he meant it as a joke and apologized.

She said Mr. Arjania also made jokes involving the date-rape drug, known as a "roofie."

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In October, 2012, she said she received an e-mail from Mr. Arjania that said she was "gay, stupid and a loser" and desired him. She brought that e-mail to the area manager and Mr. Arjania apologized. He was also told he'd be fired if it happened again.

Mr. Arjania told the tribunal he had a friendly relationship with Ms. Kafer that was characterized by sexual banter.

He admitted that he once, after a meeting, said something to the effect of "See you later bitch" to Ms. Kafer. He told the tribunal he had meant it as "rapper slang."

Regarding the other incidents, he said he had seen Ms. Kafer laugh at date-rape drug jokes made by others and she never indicated any displeasure when he made them.

As for the e-mail he, again, said he was trying to be funny. Ms. Kafer is currently on stress leave, but the company has said her job awaits when she's ready to return. Sleep Country said it's open to transferring her to another store, if she so wishes.

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