Kamloops barista loses sexual harassment claim, admits circulating falsehoods | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops barista loses sexual harassment claim, admits circulating falsehoods

The former PDK Cafe.
Image Credit: INSTAGRAM:PDK Cafe
October 23, 2020 - 7:00 AM

A Kamloops woman has lost a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case against a former coworker and the cafe where she worked, which in turn allege that her "false" and "frivolous" claims of sexual harassment that were shared on social media caused the business to go bankrupt and ruined lives.

In the Oct. 21 B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision, tribunal member Beverley Froese dismissed Jordynn Denness's claim against the PDK Café, its former owner Kim Cecile, and barista Dima Kondratenko.

Denness accused Kondratenko of sexual harassment and her former employer of failing to take the complaint seriously.

But before she went to the tribunal, Denness widely shared a letter – originally published anonymously by Kamloops This Week under the tag #METOO – on social media which named the PDK Café and accused the business of inaction when she told them she was being sexually harassed. The letter also accused the café of ignoring previous complaints of sexual harassment.

However, under cross-examination, Denness admitted the letter contained numerous overstatements and false claims.

In the decision, Cecile turned the table and argued she was the one due financial compensation and accused Denness of acting with malice and that her "frivolous and vexatious claims" destroyed her business.

Kondratenko also argued for financial compensation and accused Denness of trying to smear his character by alleging he committed criminal acts and is a racist.

The decision does not say when the PDK Café closed down, or give any details as to what caused the closure.

The decision comes almost three years to the day after the incidents that led to the allegations took place, and comes after a hearing which lasted seven days and included 15 witnesses.

The decision says the case is not just about the allegations of sexual harassment and inaction by management, but the "controversy that erupted" after Denness identified herself as the author of the letter to the editor. 

The case goes back to October 2017, when Denness was a 20-year-old nursing student at Thompson Rivers University and worked part-time at the café.

According to the decision, Denness worked two shifts with Dima Kondratenko, a Ukrainian international student in his early 20s also studying at Thompson Rivers University.

During the two shifts they worked together, Denness, who is openly gay, claims Kondratenko made inappropriate sexual comments, used racial slurs, and made derogatory and threatening comments about LGBTQ people.

Days after the alleged incidents, Denness went to the RCMP and filed a bullying and harassment claim with WorkSafe B.C. The claim was later dismissed. In April 2018 she also received a threat on her Instagram account. The exact nature of the Instagram threat, or who sent it, is not discussed in the decision.

The decision says both parties submitted a significant amount of evidence related to events that happened after Denness made her allegations of sexual harassment public and that a large amount of social media posts relating to the "fallout" from the letter to the newspaper was presented, but was all dismissed as "unexamined hearsay evidence."

The Tribunal member says these matters do not form part of the Human Rights complaint, which will only focus on whether the allegations of sexual harassment and how the business responded to them.

According to the decision, both Denness and Kondratenko have completely different versions of what happened. The decision lists a lengthy play-by-play account of what happened between the two baristas while they worked together.

Some of the allegations include that Kondratenko grabbed Denness's phone and put it down his underwear, asked her if she had naked photos on her phone, and told her she looked sexy on her hands and knees while cleaning. The decision says Kondratenko also repetitively asked Denness to go down to the basement with him, made offensive and derogatory comments about her sexuality, and made violent and threatening comments about LGBTQ people.

At the end of their second and final shift together, Denness hid in the bathroom waiting for Kondratenko to leave as he'd asked many "strange, uncomfortable, and inappropriate" questions during the shift. Denness testified the questions focused on where she lived, whether she had a boyfriend, where she parked her car, and other very specific questions related to her and when she would be alone. Kondratenko also told her he always carried a gun on him.

Kondratenko's testimony contradicts much of what Denness had said. He denied telling Denness he always carried a gun, but he did talk about hunting and that he'd recently purchased a rifle. He also said he never asked her where she lived or where she parked her car or made any racial slurs.

The tribunal member says she finds Kondratenko's testimony credible and largely consistent with the evidence of other witnesses and any inconsistencies to be minor in nature.

However, the tribunal member says there are significant variations in parts of Denness' testimony compared to what she told the RCMP days after the events and her complaint to WorkSafe B.C.

"I find that some of Ms. Denness’s evidence is credible and reliable. However, I find that her evidence on many of her allegations against Mr. Kondratenko is not reliable because her versions changed in material ways and her negative interpretations of what occurred are not reasonably supported by the evidence," reads the decision. "I also find that much of what is underlying Ms. Denness’s 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."

Shortly after the alleged behaviour took place Denness reported it to a manager who responded by saying, "I knew this would happen."

The decision says Denness took the "I knew this would happen" out of context, and believed there had been numerous complaints of sexual harassment by Kondratenko that had been ignored or "swept under the rug."

Denness then used the phrase "I knew this would happen" in her letter to the newspaper. However, under cross-examination Denness admitted much of the letter contained overstatements, misstatements and claims that were false.

In the letter, Denness claimed management knew Kondratenko had sexually harassed other employees and some had quit because of this. But in cross-examination Denness admitted that no one told her they were leaving because of Kondratenko and she'd based that on the assumption after the manager said, “I knew this would happen”. The letter also alleged no one would take her oncoming shifts although Denness then admitted a female colleague had actually taken two of those shifts.

"In the Letter to the Editor, Ms. Denness said other PDK employees went so far as to tell her they would not work with him. In cross-examination, Ms. Denness acknowledged that no one ever told her that," reads the decision.

While the cafe owner admits she should have kept better notes following the complaint, the tribunal finds she took reasonable steps to find a resolution.

"Taking all the unique circumstances of this case into consideration, I find that Ms. Cecile and PDK fulfilled their obligations... to reasonably respond to and investigate Ms. Denness’ complaint of sexual harassment," the decision says.

Ultimately, both Denness's claims were dismissed, although the tribunal refused to award damages to the defendants.

The decision says while Denness's complaint is not justified that does not mean the entirety of her complaint was based on allegations she knows are not true and that a cost award may have a negative effect in the future if complainants believe they face a financial penalty if they are unsuccessful.

The full decision can be found here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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