‘Workplace incidents are more serious’: Manager sentenced to six months’ prison for sexually assaulting two colleagues
An Ontario court has sentenced a former manager at a motorhome dealership to six months in jail for sexually assaulting two female colleagues.
Michael Hurst, 46, was convicted of three counts of sexual assault involving two workers by a jury. Justice C. Petersen of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice noted that the fact the incidents occurred at work made the assaults even more serious.
“The assaults occurred in the workplace, where the victims were required to attend to earn their livelihood,” said Petersen. “This also elevates the gravity of Mr. Hurst’s offences and his moral blameworthiness. Workplace incidents are more serious because they not only harm the individual victims, but they also poison the work environment.”
Ironically, the court noted that Hurst — who was in a position of authority — was “specifically entrusted to update and implement the company’s sexual harassment policy.”
The victims were not only entitled to feel safe in their workplace generally, the court noted, but they “also reasonably expected to be able to trust the person who had these specific responsibilities.”
While Hurst didn’t directly manage the two victims, the court noted his position of power and influence in the workplace.
“There was no direct reporting relationship from the victims to Mr. Hurst and he did not exercise authority over them, but he occupied a high-level position within the company as a manager who supervised a significant percentage of the workforce,” said Justice Petersen.
“Moreover, he had a close personal relationship with the general manager, who was also the owner’s son. His relationship with the general manager was well-known by all the staff, because he spent a lot of time in the general manager’s office during work hours, and they regularly went out of drinks together after work. The victims therefore naturally doubted whether reporting his misconduct to management would result in any formal recourse, and (one victim) worried about possible retaliatory conduct if she made a complaint.”
The court said Hurst “exploited” his position, believing it gave him the opportunity to engage in sexual assaults of co-workers with impunity.
The Crown in this case sought a jail term of 12 to 15 months, while defense for Hurst submitted that length of incarceration was long and excessively harsh. It asked for 60 to 90 days followed by three years’ probation.
The two victims in this case were identified as AA and CC, a move by the court to protect their anonymity and confidentiality. It also noted there is a publication ban that prohibits any information that might identify them.
Regarding the incidents involving AA, they transpired over two separate timeframes — 2017 and 2019. During an incident in the fall of 2017, Hurst acknowledged he touched AA’s leg with a sexual intent in his office, though he contested additional accusations made by AA. The jury, assessing the evidence, determined that this act was deliberate, without consent, and sexually motivated.
In a separate incident in November 2019, taking place inside an RV where AA was preparing decorations for a Christmas parade, AA alleged that Hurst inappropriately grabbed her buttocks and breasts. While he conceded to one instance of touching her breast, he refuted other claims. The jury was advised that agreement on just one act of sexual assault would suffice for a conviction on this specific count. The court, upon reviewing the evidence, found AA to be a credible witness and dismissed Hurst’s conflicting statements. AA’s accuracy and directness in her testimony were particularly noted.
Regarding the incidents with CC, these occurred between June 2019 and August 2020 and constituted the third count of sexual assault. Hurst admitted to the acts but maintained that CC had consented. These included touching CC under her shirt and a series of actions where he ground against her, both fully clothed. His defense was predicated on his belief that CC had implied consent through her actions and responses.
Contrarily, CC testified that all sexual interactions initiated by Hurst were unwelcome and forced. She denied any actions or conversations that would imply her consent.
The court accepted CC’s testimony as trustworthy and dismissed Hurst’s defense of a purported honest but mistaken belief in consent. Notably, the court highlighted that Hurst only inquired about the consensual nature of their interactions after AA had lodged a complaint, casting doubt on his belief in the consent at the time of the incidents.
Based on the strength of CC’s testimony, Hurst was found guilty of sexually assaulting her, involving multiple non-consensual actions such as touching her breast and grinding against her without her permission.
Hurst was also ordered to provide DNA samples for forensic analysis and given a life-long weapons prohibition order.
He is prohibited from communicating directly or indirectly with AA or CC during the custodial period of his sentence. Justice Petersen also imposed an 18-month period of probation, which will run concurrent with an existing conditional sentence he had. As a condition of probation, he is is not to communicate in any way, directly or indirectly, with AA or CC.
For more information, see R. v. Hurst, 2023 ONSC 6448 (CanLII).
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