She claims the harassment began shortly after she was hired as part of the construction site cleanup crew.
The only woman on the crew, Belia Mejia says she struggled for six months, “Trying to fit in … trying to be one of the guys.”
It started with snide comments, Mejia alleges.
“They would call me ‘p—y’ all the time. It went too far, and when I told my boss what happened, he said he would talk to them. But nothing ever happened.”
She alleges the harassment continued, and, as detailed in a complaint filed in February with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, escalated to include physical threats, crude racist and sexist comments, and an allegation that two male co-workers had once followed her home “to check where I live.”
According to the Human Rights Tribunal complaint, obtained by this newspaper, Mejia is now seeking $40,000 in damages from the construction company, Manotick-based Versatek Building Corp.
Mejia says she decided to comment publicly about her complaint, in part, to inspire others to stand up for their rights.
“This is not about me, because it’s not only me who is having this problem,” she said in an interview. “There are so many other people, and other women who are being treated like this every single day. It’s not fair, it’s not right and it needs to stop.”
None of Mejia’s claims has been tested by the Human Rights Tribunal and Versatek’s parent company, Bayview Kanata Holdings Ltd., denied the most serious allegations in a detailed response, filed with the tribunal and obtained by this newspaper, and dismissed other allegations as part of the “working culture.”
“Coarse language was not uncommon on the construction site. Many engaged in it, including the (complainant), without evident discomfort or complaint. … (She) gave every appearance of being comfortable hearing, and using language that some would consider offensive,” the company said in its response to the tribunal complaint.
When reached for comment Tuesday, David Law, a lawyer for the company, described the allegations as unsubstantiated.
“There is a process which will assess and determine the facts,” Law said in an email. “We believe that everyone concerned deserves fairness and due process. That process is underway with the Human Rights Tribunal, and we think it is inappropriate to comment on the matter elsewhere.”
The company’s tribunal filings allege Mejia missed a shift on Jan. 18, then arrived late the following day. The site superintendent directed a foreman to warn her about her “attendance problem.”
In an interview, Mejia said she refused to return to work because she felt unsafe. On Jan. 22, she sent a text to the superintendent, her boss, informing him she would not be returning to work because of sexual and racial harassment.
“This was the first time such a complaint had ever been made at the project, by the Applicant or anyone else,” the company claims.
Mejia said she formally complained on Jan. 10 (the company denies this) as the harassment allegedly escalated further.