Civil lawsuits involve one party suing another party for damages or some other remedy, such as an injunction. The court can award damages to compensate for financial losses or emotional pain and suffering.
In order to bring a civil matter to court you must have what is known as a “cause of action.” Basically, this means that the basis of your case is recognized in law. Examples of recognized cause of actions, also known as torts, include things like negligence, trespass, defamation, or breach of contract. Some crimes, such as assault, can also form the basis of a civil lawsuit for assault or battery.
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment and to adequately address sexual harassment that they are, or should have been, aware of. Similarly, workers have a duty not to sexually harass other workers. When sexual harassment does occur, affected workers may consider suing their employer, another worker, or both.
It's important to note that many civil actions will not be available to workers if the issue was addressed through other means, such as a human rights complaint or workers' compensation claim. Some actions may also be specifically barred under legislation dealing with workplace issues or because the issue is covered by a collective agreement. This site provides general legal information. A lawyer can help you determine all action that is available to you. The Shift Project can arrange for a free consultation.
In recent years the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that harassment, including sexual harassment, is not recognized as a separate basis for a civil lawsuit. Civil cases involving sexual harassment can still be heard in court, but the basis for the suit must be tied to a recognized cause of action such as wrongful dismissal, constructive dismissal, intentional infliction of emotional harm, assault and/or battery. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to consider suing the alleged harasser, your employer, or both.
Unlike criminal cases, where a prosecutor will argue your case, you are responsible for the costs of having a lawyer present your civil case. In the event that your case is not successful, you could also be responsible for the other party’s costs, or some of them.
This area of the law is complex and legal advice is strongly recommended. With the exception of suits involving sexual assault and battery, there is generally a two year limitation period for beginning a claim. You may also want to consider if the remedy you are seeking is available through other means, such as a grievance, human rights complaint or a workers' compensation claim.
Although employers generally have the right to terminate an employee, there are situations where an employee can sue based on wrongful dismissal.
When an employer unilaterally makes changes to an employee's work environment that are fundamental and substantial, the employee may be able to sue for constructive dismissal. In some circumstances sexual harassment can be considered this kind of change.
When sexual harassment involves someone intentionally causing severe emotional harm, the harassed party may be able to make a claim for damages under tort law.
When sexual harassment is intended to cause a a reasonable apprehension of immediate or offensive contact, or when it involves physical contact without consent, the victim may be able to sue the perpetrator for assault or battery.
Individuals who have been the victim of unauthorized sharing of their intimate images can sue under Saskatchewan's privacy laws.
Understanding what a court can order if you are successful in a civil law suit can help you decide whether you want to pursue a civil case.
This site provides general information about workplace sexual harassment only. It is not a substitute for receiving legal advice about your situation. Apply now to receive 4 hours of free legal advice.