Schuller v. Parlee, Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
A landlord is on the hook for $1,000 in damages after a finding his comments about a tenant’s daughter’s “really big boobs” had created a “poisoned home environment” in the apartment building.
In a case featuring some unusual circumstances, the tenant testified the superintendent told her the building’s owner had referred to her daughter as the kid with “big boobs, really big boobs,” according to HRTO vice chairman David Muir’s ruling in Schuller v. Parlee.
In addition, The mother and applicant in the case, Darlene Schuller, said the superintendent told her the owner had wondered how the daughter could have such large breasts “because the applicant had nothing or words to that effect.” Schuller, also testified she had overheard a conversation that suggested the superintendent’s son had also heard about landlord Wilf Parlee’s comments.
In his initial response to the case, Parlee said the comments arose in the context of a conversation with the superintendent, who was new the building, about all of the tenants there.
“She was new to the building and wanted to know all about the tenants that she was going to have to deal with,” he said, noting the comment could have come from either him or the superintendent.
In his testimony at the hearing, he gave a different story that suggested in his conversation with the superintendent, he had noted Schuller’s concern that another male tenant had been following her daughter.
“The respondent appeared to suggest that he described the applicant’s daughter as the kid with big boobs in an effort to explain the possible interest of the male tenant,” wrote Muir.
In his decision, Muir accepted Schuller’s version of the events had a “ring of truth about it” and was critical of Parlee’s changing story as well as his attempts to portray Schuller and her family as “terrible tenants.” He also found Parlee responsible for the remarks passed on by the superintendent as she was his agent.
“Although the comments were made only once and could not be considered a course of conduct, the comments once made by the respondent were repeated and were known by at least one other person in the building,” wrote Muir.
“This was a small 8 unit building and the respondent was a not infrequent visitor. The fact that the applicant might feel that she and her daughter were exposed is understandable in the circumstances. Most importantly the applicant had been told, and reasonably believed it to be the case, that she was subject to sexualizing scrutiny by the respondent, her landlord. In the particular circumstances of this case I find that the comments comparing her and her daughter were discriminatory and were sufficiently egregious to create a poisoned environment for the applicant in that apartment building.”
While Muir rejected Schuller’s allegations of reprisal by Parlee, he found a small monetary award was appropriate.
“I accept the applicant’s evidence that she was upset by the comments and the knowledge that she was being scrutinized by her landlord in a sexualized way. For these reasons I find that it would be appropriate to award a modest quantum of compensation in the amount of $1,000 for injury to the applicant’s dignity, feelings and self-respect.”
David Harris, author of Wrongful Dismissal, published by Carswell, and a regular commentator on human rights issues in the employment context, says while he’s not familiar with the concept of a “poisoned home environment,” it would be parallel to workplace situations.
“If these comments were made in an employment relationship, there is no doubt that it would lead to a finding of a poisoned work environment,” he says.