BC Human Rights Tribunal throws out sexual harassment complaint made by Kamloops barista

Barista's complaint tossed

The BC Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a woman's sexual harassment complaint against a now-shuttered Kamloops coffee shop and one of its baristas, ruling that an anonymous #MeToo letter published in the local newspaper making claims about the incident was "demonstrably false."

The human rights complaint was filed by Jordyn Denness on Jan. 3, 2018.

According to the tribunal's ruling released this week, Denness accused her former coworker Dima Kondratenko of sexual harassment based on her sexual orientation during two back-to-back shifts at PDK Cafe in late October 2017. She also accused cafe owner Kim Cecile of not taking her complaint seriously.

In her decision, tribunal member Beverly Froese outlines in great detail the accounts from each party and their witnesses (15 in all), noting Kondratenko and Denness "have completely different versions of what happened." 

The document shows both baristas were students at Thompson Rivers University at the time of the allegations. Denness was in the nursing program and Kondratenko, an international student from Ukraine, was taking a diploma program in international business. 

Over the two shifts, on Oct. 27 and 28 of 2017, Denness alleges Kondratenko did things like take her phone and put it down his pants, used racial and homophobic slurs (she claims she was cornered and called a "f**king dyke"), asked about naked photos on her phone and told her he had a gun with him at work. 

Kondratenko's testimony contradicts much of the Denness' testimony, according to Froese's ruling.

He denied ever putting the phone down his pants; when questioned about it, Kondratenko did say that at one point during the evening he did take her phone and held it behind his back for no more than a minute and then put it on top of the coffee grinder where she couldn't reach it. Kondratenko said he did that because Denness kept trying to take photos of him and send them to her friends.

Kondratenko also denied asking his coworker of her sexual orientation, or harassing her in any way related to her sexual orientation or making any derogatory comments against LGBTQ people, according to the ruling. In his testimony, he said they did talk about relationships and cultural differences and he told her that homosexuality is not open or public in Ukraine and that it is almost illegal.

After Denness testified, Kondratenko asked an interpreter at the hearing what the word "dyke" means because it was a word he had never heard before, the ruling states.

Moreover, no racial slurs were ever made, according to Kondratenko.

His testimony shows he had asked his coworker about her hobbies; she told him she goes to the gym and likes hanging out with friends and he said he likes hunting, fishing, spearfishing and shooting.

"He said he only mentioned to Ms. Denness that he has hunting rifles and he never said anything about carrying concealed weapons or that he always has a gun on him," Froese writes. 

Froese found "significant" discrepancies in the information Denness provided in her testimony and in her 2017 RCMP statement. At times, her testimony was "convoluted."

In her decision, Froese references a letter to the editor Denness sent to Kamloops This Week. The letter, published under anonymity, was in the Dec. 7, 2017 issue, and outlines her allegations without naming the coffee shop or Kondratenko. Froese notes that Denness did identify herself on social media as the letter's author, and did name the coffee shop.

"Ms. Denness was cross-examined extensively on the contents of the letter to the editor. Based on her evidence, I find the letter to the editor contained numerous overstatements, misstatements and claims that, based on the evidence before me, are demonstrably false," Froese writes.

The tribunal member points to a number of discrepancies; in the letter, Denness states Kondratenko sexually harassed others and that other employees quit because of him. In cross-examination, Denness admitted that no one told her they were leaving PDK because of Kondratenko and that was based on the assumption she made after one of her supervisors said, "I knew this would happen." 

Denness claimed when she reported being sexually harassed by Kondratenko to her team leader, Jessica Thompson, she was met with "I knew this would happen." Denness said she took that response to mean she knew there had been other complaints of sexual harassment made against her Ukrainian coworker. 

According to Thompson's testimony, she made that statement in a different context, referring to communication issues that Kondratenko had with others because he could be blunt and stubborn and because of cultural barriers.

In the letter to the editor, Denness said other PDK employees went so far as to tell her they would not work with him. In cross-examination, she acknowledged that no one ever told her that.

On many accounts, Froese found Denness' evidence to be unreliable "because her versions changed in material ways and her negative interpretations of what occurred are not reasonably supported by the evidence."

Froese found Cecile and PDK "fulfilled their obligations under the Code to reasonably respond to and investigate" her employee's complaint.

"For the reasons set out above, Ms. Denness' complaint against the respondents is not justified and it is dismissed in its entirety," Froese concludes.

You can read the full decision here.

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