Sexist Jokes, Thigh Rubs, Butt-slaps – Unisex Salon Pays for Harassment


Three former employees of a Toronto hair salon have been awarded a total of more than $150,000 compensation for the sexual harassment they endured, and wages they lost when they quit or were fired.

A Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) hearing determined that The Ultimate Cut Unisex, Rocco Valentini and Paul Portelli were jointly and severally responsible for the harassment. It included an uncomfortably sexually charged, poisoned work environment.

The two students and a mother of three testified that they were “creeped-out” by Valentini’s language and behaviour.

Workers Were “Treated as Sex Objects”

One of the applicants, who was 15 when Valentini hired her for her first job, testified that she was afraid to work with men for some time afterward. Another employee, the mother of three, lost her car and her daycare subsidy after leaving the salon, which hindered her ability to get another hairstyling job, the adjudicator notes.

In J.D. v. The Ultimate Cut Unisex, 2014 HRTO 956 (CanLII), an adjudicator found: “Mr. Valentini’s conduct clearly indicated that he viewed the applicants as sex objects, a reason which is obviously related to the fact the applicants are women” and that Portelli failed to investigate.

The women testified that Valentini made repeated suggestions that they do sexual favours for money, asked questions about their sex lives, touched their upper thighs under their clothing, and showed them pornography at work. One worker testified that when she objected to Valentini slapping her backside, he would laugh and say he was just “being who he was.”

In the decision dated June 27, HRTO Vice-chair Mary Truemner ordered compensation for: injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect; and lost wages.

Truemner found:

    “Mr. Valentini made the applicants feel uncomfortable and constantly nervous about how far he might try to go with his sexual harassment, solicitations and advances. When he was in the salon, they were on tenterhooks. When he sat at reception with them, they were essentially forced to tolerate his references to the lingerie and pornographic magazines, and to listen to his comments and jokes because he ran the salon, and was understood as their boss. His sexual conduct was continual throughout the applicants’ employment in 2011 and 2012 until it became so intolerable that they understandably quit. They quit because of his unwelcome, sexual behaviour and because there was no protection from him by Mr. Portelli or the organizational respondent.”

The decision notes that the Ontario Human Rights Code provides:

    5. (1) Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of… sex….

    7. (2) Every person who is an employee has a right to freedom from harassment in the workplace because of sex… by his or her employer or agent of the employer or by another employee.

    (3) Every person has a right to be free from,

    (a) a sexual solicitation or advance made by a person in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the person where the person making the solicitation or advance knows or ought reasonably to know that it is unwelcome; …

    8. Every person has a right to claim and enforce his or her rights under this Act, to institute and participate in proceedings under this Act and to refuse to infringe a right of another person under this Act, without reprisal or threat of reprisal for so doing.

    9. No person shall infringe or do, directly or indirectly, anything that infringes a right under this Part.

    10. (1) In Part I and in this Part,

    … “harassment” means engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome;


Two of the applicants were awarded $40,000 compensation each for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect, plus lost wages. The third was awarded $25,000 plus lost wages.

No one appeared for the respondents; Clara Matheson represented the applicants in the case, filed under s. 34 of the Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19.


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