Housekeeper diagnosed with PTSD after alleged work camp assault wins compensation
‘I was thrown on the bed and that’s when he sexually assaulted me’
For more than six years, Susan waged a lonely, one-woman battle, fighting for justice, acknowledgement and compensation.
After years of rejection and disappointment, she won a decision earlier this year at the appeals commission for Alberta Workers' Compensation.
She was a housekeeper for a catering company in the spring of 2013 when, she says, she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker at a remote work camp in northern Alberta. She was 50 years old.
It happened after she had returned to the camp after a week off. A man greeted her at the front desk and offered to carry her suitcase to a dorm room. He followed her into the room. The door shut behind them.
"All of a sudden, the next thing you knew, I was thrown on the bed and that's when he sexually assaulted me," Susan told CBC News. "I couldn't get up. He was strong. He covered my mouth. I couldn't do anything."
At first, she didn't tell anyone.
"I was so scared and confused and angry and sad and went through all this stuff. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know if I should say something," Susan said. (Her real identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban.)
Employer told after second incident
A month later, she said, the same man confronted her again.
According to the appeals commission's decision, issued June 28, "She told him to leave her alone and went to her room. He followed her, grabbed her in the hallway and kissed her neck, leaving a mark."
After that, Susan told her employer about the incidents. She said she received no support.
"The worker was told to keep quiet and do her work," the appeals commission was told by Susan's representative at the hearing.
"She was then bullied and harassed. The worker reported shame, emotional distress, disturbed sleep, loss of appetite and nightmares. She also reported being stressed, hurt and confused."
But the employer's representative at the appeals commission hearing denied allegations of bullying.
After Susan had told her employer about what had happened, the man she said attacked her was transferred to another work camp.
A psychologist diagnosed Susan with post-traumatic stress disorder. She took a few weeks off work before returning to the job, feeling that she couldn't afford to lose her paycheque.
Her employer covered the cost of three counselling sessions. She felt betrayed.
After her co-worker was charged with two counts of sexual assault and one count of forcible confinement, she put her faith in the justice system.
The man was committed to stand trial following a preliminary hearing held in Fort McMurray.
Then a new Crown prosecutor took over the case. One week before the trial date, the charges were stayed. Susan said the prosecutor called it a he said/she said scenario and didn't think there was a reasonable likelihood of conviction.
She was shocked. Once again, she felt betrayed.
"I look back now and I'll tell you the truth," Susan told CBC News. "I don't even know how I made it through all that stuff. But I did. I just stayed strong and did what I had to do. I was not going to give up. I was not going to let this guy do that to me."
'They fought me every step of the way'
Susan turned to the Workers' Compensation Board of Alberta, hoping for some relief. She wanted some paid time off and additional counselling.
"And they just kept denying it. Over and over and over," Susan said. "And I kept appealing."
She felt suicidal. She was angry.
"Angry at the system. Angry that nobody cared. I was angry at the company. They fought me every step of the way through everything."
In June of this year, she appeared before the appeals commission. The employer's representative tried to argue Susan was not entitled to compensation because she wasn't on shift when she was sexually assaulted.
Susan said the same company representative also claimed only police officers and firefighters suffer from PTSD.
The appeals commission decided in her favour.
The three panel members believed she was sexually assaulted twice by her co-worker in 2013, and that the attacks caused a psychological injury. They ruled she had an "acceptable" WCB claim.
"I cried," Susan told CBC News. "Finally, somebody believes me. Somebody hears me."
She received a cheque for less than $20,000 for lost wages. WCB also offered to pay for an additional 10 psychological counselling sessions.
"That was it. There was nothing else," she said.
Susan hasn't ruled out civil action against her former employer, but she's torn because she also wants to put the whole ordeal behind her.
"I'm so angry," she said. "Angry at the company, angry at WCB. Why does somebody have to fight so hard?
"I don't understand it."