Kamloops cafe owner cleared in complaint about response to sexual harassment claim

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has sided with Kim Cecile, owner of the now-closed PDK Cafe, finding her testimony to be more credible than that of former employee Jordyn Denness.

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a complaint from a former employee against the owner of a now-closed Kamloops cafe, ruling the cafe owner did indeed reasonably respond to and investigate the complaint of sexual harassment.

Jordynn Denness claimed co-worker Dima Kondratenko sexually harassed her and harassed her on the basis of her sexual orientation over the course of the two shifts in late October 2017.

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Denness claimed her employer, Kim Cecile, owner of PDK Cafe, which operated downtown, knew Kondratenko had previously sexually harassed others and said her complaint was not taken seriously.

Kondratenko denied Denness’ allegations, while Cecile insisted all reasonable efforts were made to respond to and investigate the complaint. Cecile added that there was no previous evidence that Kondratenko had been accused of sexually harassing fellow employees.

Denness had three witnesses testify on her behalf, while Cecile had 10 witnesses testify on her behalf.

Tribunal member Beverly Froese sided with the testimony of Cecile and her witnesses. Froese also concluded that, based on the evidence in testimony, she found no evidence that Kondratenko had sexually harassed or threatened Denness.

“Overall, I find Ms. Cecile and Mr. Kondratenko to be credible and testified sincerely and to the best of their recollection about the events at issue,” Froese said in her 62-page decision, which was released on Oct. 21. “There were inconsistencies and discrepancies in their evidence … but in general, I prefer the evidence of the respondents and their witnesses.”

She added: "I accept that Ms. Denness’ interactions with Mr. Kondratenko made her uncomfortable. She told more than one person she found him to be 'creepy' and she did not want to work with him. However, I find Mr. Kondratenko’s evidence regarding these allegations to be credible. I prefer his evidence about what happened when he and Ms. Denness worked together because it included details and context to their conversations that, overall, I find lacking in Ms. Denness’ evidence."

Froese found Denness’ evidence in many of her allegations against Kondratenko not reliable because “her versions changed in material ways and her negative interpretations of what occurred are not reasonably supported by the evidence. I also find that much of what is underlying Ms. Denness’ evidence regarding how her employer responded to her complaint against Mr. Kondratenko are beliefs grounded in assumptions she made that, based on the evidence presented, are not true.”

Froese also noted inconsistencies in what Denness told her roommate, WorkSafeBC and the RCMP.

Froese highlighted a Facebook message log between Denness and Cecile less than a week after the two dates on which Denness claimed to have been sexually harassed at work.
Denness: “Hi Kim, I would really like to speak with you in person about this issue.”
Cecile: “Hi Jordynn. Sorry I just saw all these messages. For some reason when I was away I was getting notifications but couldn’t open anything. Would you want to meet somewhere tomorrow and speak in person. I am horrified to have read this.”
Denness: “No problem, i know Facebook isn’t the best form of communication! Tomorrow would be great, are you available at noon”
Cecile: “This is not acceptable at all and will be dealt with. I am speechless.”
Denness: “Thank you I appreciate that”
Cecile: “Absolutely. Want to meet at Starbucks or for lunch somewhere. Somewhere where you will have some privacy and feel comfortable talking”
Denness: “We could meet at Starbucks on Columbia and McGill if that works for you”
Cecile: “Absolutely”

“Ms. Cecile handled Ms. Denness’ complaint with sensitivity as evidenced by her response to Ms. Denness’ Facebook messages and the measures she took to put Ms. Denness at ease when they met at Starbucks,” Froese said.

“I also find Ms. Cecile to be sincere when she said she met with Ms. Denness to find out the truth and did not go there to discredit her or treat her allegations as untrue. I find Ms. Cecile’s evidence that she would not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace or excuse sexual harassment on the grounds of cultural differences or a language barrier to be credible. In my view, Ms. Cecile’s testimony about her own experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual violence and her efforts to put Ms. Denness at ease and understand where she might be coming from was emotional, compelling and genuine.”

Froese denied Cecile’s application for costs against Denness.

Weeks after her two shifts with Kondratenko, Denness sent a letter to the editor of KTW. After much discussion surrounding legalities of publishing such allegations, KTW heavily edited the letter and published it as an example of a person’s experience in the MeToo movement. The letter was published in print and online, but edited so it did not identify the author by name or gender, did not identify the person the author accused and did not identify the business at which the alleged sexual harassment took place.

Shortly thereafter, contrary to the agreement she had with KTW, Denness linked to the letter on her social media pages, naming PDK Cafe and precipitating a torrent of criticism of the cafe from online commenters. The cafe opened in December 2014 and closed in August 2018.

On January 23, 2018, WorkSafe denied Ms. Denness’ claim of workplace bullying and harassment.

The entire The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision can be read here:

184_Denness_v_PDK_Café_and_others_2020_BCHRT_184 by ChristopherFoulds on Scribd

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