British Columbia

Vancouver medical equipment company ordered to pay $20K in sexual discrimination case

Vancouver-based company Aurora Biomed has been ordered by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to pay a former sales associate more than $20,000 after she complained of discrimination and was later fired.

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal orders Aurora Biomed to pay sales associate after she complained of discrimination

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal heard that the CEO of a medical equipment company commented on a sales associate's appearance, referring to her as 'beautiful girl' and telling her she should smile more. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A Vancouver-based medical equipment company has been ordered by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to pay a former sales associate more than $20,000 after she complained of sexual discrimination.

According to the tribunal's written decision, a sales associate for Aurora Biomed Inc. accused the company's founder and CEO, Dong Liang, of asking her inappropriate questions about her marital status and her plans to have children during her job interview.

She also alleged that he made comments about her appearance during her employment, which lasted about a year.

The sales associate complained about Liang's comments to her supervisor, who happened to be Liang's daughter Sophia.

In the documents, Liang accused the sales associate of defaming him and asked her to sign a statement saying that he had not physically assaulted her. 

The sales associate testified she was fired the next day by phone while she was on her way to work.

The company and the Liangs told the tribunal that the sales associate was fired for poor performance and nothing inappropriate was said to her.

Over three days, the tribunal heard that Liang commented about the sales associate's appearance, referring to her as "beautiful girl" or "beautiful lady," and commenting that she should smile more.

Tribunal member Devyn Cousineau wrote that Liang's behaviour discriminated against the sales associate and the company violated the B.C. Human Rights Code by terminating her employment.

The company and the sales associate both sought to not be publicly identified in the tribunal case, but the company and the Liangs were denied the request due to the complaint being in the public's interest.

Liang, a scientist in his 70s, invented many technologies sold by the company to universities, governments, and private companies around the world.

The tribunal was told by Aurora Biomed that "work is especially pressing because Aurora is working on technologies to help develop vaccines against COVID‐19" and the sexual harassment allegations are damaging and devastating to Liang's family.

Cousineau accepted that Liang made comments to the sales associate but not with the frequency that she alleges because during her 13 months of employment, Liang was away from Vancouver for a total of 215 days.

Cousineau evaluated the testimony and said the "comments were belittling and degrading, in a context where the sales associate was struggling to demonstrate her value to the company," but did not agree the discrimination was as severe as the sales associate alleged.

However, the power imbalance, Cousineau noted in the decision, was striking considering the conflict was between a star inventor in his 70s, leading the company, and an employee in her 20s who was employed in an entry level position.

The tribunal ordered Aurora Biomed to put in place an anti‐discrimination and harassment policy in order to ensure similar incidents don't occur in the future.

Aurora Biomed and the Liangs were ordered to pay the sales associate $20,000 as compensation for injury to her dignity, feelings, and self‐respect.

The sales associate was also awarded $1,000 because the company was cited for improper conduct during the course of the tribunal complaint, and $3,170 in compensation for lost wages.