MT+Co. labour and employment lawyer Jennifer Wiegele was interviewed by Global BC on two occasions regarding the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. Drawing on experience with workplace harassment and bullying in her practice, Jen provided her opinion on the controversy.
Lawsuit as PR Stunt
On October 27, 2014, Jen spoke with Global BC anchor Jill Krop about Jian Ghomeshi launching a $55M lawsuit against his employer, the CBC, after he was fired from his high-profile job as a radio host. Jen suggested that his multi-million dollar lawsuit was probably a public relations tactic on the basis that, as a unionized employee, Ghomeshi did not have recourse to the courts in relation to matters arising from his employment. Instead, he was limited to labour arbitration with the support of his union or possibly complaints to other tribunals without necessarily having the support of his union. Further, damages in the realm of $55 million in employment cases are unheard of in Canada and, as such, the figure put forward seemed sensationalistic, appearing to be calculated to draw attention and to suggest that he was the victim.
Jen also discussed issues about the burden of proof and the evidence that would be necessary to uphold Ghomeshi’s dismissal and to bring criminal charges. This led to a discussion about whether his accusers could remain anonymous, or whether they would have to come forward. Jen noted that it is highly probable that complainants would have to come forward in the event of criminal charges and could not remain anonymous.
In the employment context, the CBC would have to provide compelling evidence that their radio host was responsible for very serious misconduct in order to uphold his dismissal. This would also probably require evidence from the female victims.
Jian Ghomeshi Scandal – Take Two
Following the release of independent investigator and lawyer Janice Ruben’s findings, it became apparent that CBC management had knowledge of Ghomeshi’s behavior for some time prior to the scandal and did not take steps to put a stop to it. The 52-page investigative report indicated that his managers knew about his inappropriate behavior and conduct in the workplace, failed to investigate or act on it in any meaningful or effective way, and, in fact, “gave him license to continue”. More importantly, the report concluded that as an employer, the CBC ignored its own policies and failed to ensure the workplace was free from harassment and abusive behaviour.
On April 17, 2015, Jen’s discussion with Global BC Anchor Sonia Sunger focussed on whether the CBC should have done more about Jian Ghomeshi’s behaviour. Often seeing the same issues in her legal practice, Jen noted that what is being discussed in the media is a frequent problem for organizations; senior executives, company superstars and ‘celebrities’ who generate significant results are allowed more leeway in terms of bad behavior.
For the CBC, in particular, Jian Ghomeshi’s show “Q”, was doing incredibly well in a time of major funding cuts. Jen explained that in this type of scenario, employers will often turn a blind eye to inappropriate behavior that should be addressed. The very public nature of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal and the ensuing investigation will ensure that there will be a heightened awareness about harassment and bullying for some time to come.
In addition to CBC’s senior management and human resources mishandling the situation, Jen pointed out that CBC employees went to the union (the Canadian Media Guild) to complain, but the union also did not act on the complaints. This failure was also mentioned in the investigation report and Jen noted that, in her view, the union was complicit in failing to do enough. Asked if the CBC should have done more overall, Jen responded that hindsight is 20/20 it and may have been difficult for the CBC to have understood the magnitude of the issue at the time – but that clearly it should have done more.
Bullying and Harassment Laws in BC
Since November 1, 2013, employers in this province have been required by Worksafe BC to have bullying and harassment policies in place. As of July 1, 2013, Worksafe BC has the ability to award benefits to employees who have a “diagnosable mental disorder” as a result of bullying or harassment in the workplace.
Jennifer has extensive experience in working with employers to address specific harassment issues – not only through her work an employment lawyer, but also as an independent investigator in harassment complaints. Jen helps business clients put policies in place and take steps to prevent harassment-oriented issues (such as what the CBC faced) from arising.
Employers can contact Jennifer Wiegele with their workplace law needs at 778.945.3069.