When Maria VanderPutten showed up to work at paper product factory Seydaco Packing Corp as a woman, after working for a number of years as a male, she experienced severe harassment, before being fired in 2010. She was awarded $22,000 and eight months’ pay by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
Vanderputten worked for Seydaco from 2003 to 2006, and was dismissed over conflicts at work, but was rehired within a few months.
In 2008 Vanderputtern began transitioning from male to female through the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and began wearing women’s clothing on her way to and from work, where she wore a unisex uniform.
Vanderputten testified that once she began dressing as a woman she experienced verbal and physical harassment, including asking whether she was a man or a woman, being shoved and shunned and having a picture of a transvestite posted with her name written on it.
Adding to the harassment from her colleagues, the company required Vanderputten to continue using the men’s washroom and changing room.
She was fired again after a co-worker alleged she threw a skid at him. Vanderputten claimed she dropped the skid by accident after a co-worker called her a “faggot”.
Adjudicator David Wright said VanderPutten was a more credible witness than the company’s witnesses, partly because she admitted when her conduct was inappropriate.
Wright found that Vanderputten was subject to a poisoned work environment and that Seydaco did not properly investigate her complaints. He also said that a plant the size of Seydaco could have made minor renovations to allow her to change in private instead of treating her as a man until she completed surgery.
The Ontario Human Rights Code added gender identity and gender expression to its list of protected traits last year, but in most other provinces transgendered people could still make claims under sex or gender.
Wright awarded Vanderputten $22,000 for injury to her dignity and self-respect. The award for lost wages was limited to eight months.