Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

A former employee of the Alberta Legislative Assembly is suing the Prime Minister’s Office, saying she suffered from a toxic workplace culture and was fired in retaliation for speaking out about the problems she saw there.

The allegations in Ariella Kimmel’s trial include sexual harassment and heavy drinking from ministers and staff in legislative offices, as well as senior officials in the prime minister’s office fabricating rumors that she contributed to her dismissal.

CBC News has received a copy of the legal document. None of the charges have been proven in court.

Kimmel served as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation from August 2020 until she was fired in February 2021. She had been working with Jason Kenney’s UCP government since May 2019.

The statement of claim states in mid-October 2020 that Kimmel found Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen drinking with a chief of staff in his office. They later met at another minister’s office, where the ministers and staff present appeared to be heavily intoxicated, Kimmel said.

Her statement said that during the meeting, she expressed concern about how drunk Dreeshen was, urging him to stop drinking.

After they left the suite, the document claims that the minister confronted her about the intervention and “aggressively shouted at her to the point where she was in tears and a worried spectator intervened.”

Prior to her appointment as chief of staff that year, Kimmel had been in an on-and-off relationship with Dreeshen.

Sexual harassment alleged in the minister’s office

Two days later, another group of employees met for drinks at the health minister’s office. That night, Ivan Bernardo, the minister’s main adviser, is said to have made a sexually inappropriate comment to one of Kimmel’s female employees.

“I have not seen you on this floor before, for with such a body I would have noticed you,” Bernardo said according to the collar statement. It adds that Bernardo was known to have been sexually inappropriate with other women in the building.

The next day, Kimmel reported the incident to Chris Thresher, Chief of Staff for Health, and Matt Wolf, the Prime Minister’s Director of Question Management.

She heard nothing for almost a month.

On November 17, Kenney’s general secretary, Larry Kaumeyer, asked to meet with her because people were worried she was upset, the lawsuit states.

Kimmel indicated that she told Kaumeyer about the aggressive incident with Dreeshen, and the excessive office drinking and the alleged sexual harassment from Bernardo.

The statement says Kaumeyer told her that Bernardo “would not be fired” and yet had decided to leave his post by the end of the year. He did not indicate whether her other concerns would be addressed. Kaumeyer no longer works in the Prime Minister’s office.

“Zero tolerance for harassment,” the government said

“Sexual harassment is heinous and has no place in our workplaces or society,” Pam Livingston, the prime minister’s chief of staff, wrote to CBC News.

“This government has zero tolerance for harassment and takes all allegations of this nature very seriously. We are fortunate to have a highly qualified and diverse public service and we are committed to providing a safe and productive workplace for all of them.”

The statement added that the government could not comment on confidential human resource cases, that Kimmel’s dismissal was not related to the cases in her trial – and it would respond fully to the allegations in court.

The Kenney office has also promised to launch an independent review of staff policies for political staff to ensure that processes are clear and staff are informed of the procedures. Political staff currently have a mandate to take respectful workplace training. The statement did not address Dreeshen’s alleged conduct.

CBC News also reached out to the individuals mentioned in the statement of claim.

“It would be inappropriate for me to comment in any way on the statements in the claim, as I will probably be called as a witness in any case. I welcome an independent and impartial review by the court and I look forward to giving my testimony. , “Bernardo wrote in an email.

Ministers, senior staff, expressed concerns about misconduct

In December, Kimmel had dinner with Rebecca Schulz, the Minister for Child Services. The document says the minister said she had heard rumors of sexual harassment and wanted to know what Kimmel knew. She told the minister about the incident without disclosing names.

During the dinner, the allegation says Environment and Park Minister Jason Nixon called Schulz to discuss Bernardo’s alleged behavior. It added that Nixon mentioned that he would raise the matter with the prime minister’s chief of staff.

“Sexual harassment is completely unacceptable and disgusting,” Schulz said in a statement to CBC News on Wednesday. “After hearing allegations, I met with Mrs Kimmel and discussed the concerns I had heard. I then spoke to the Head of Parliament about these concerns. After our discussion, he raised them with the Prime Minister’s Office and confirmed that the Prime Minister’s Office acted with the allegations. “

The next day, Kimmel spoke to Nixon about his concern that the harassment charge was not being handled properly. The trial says he promised it would be rectified immediately.

“I was contacted about some worrying rumors involving Mr. Bernardo’s behavior,” Nixon said in a written statement to CBC News.

“When I heard this, I called a trusted cabinet colleague to ask if they had heard similar rumors. After talking to Minister Schulz, I immediately contacted the then Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and Chief of Staff to inform them of the rumors I had heard and was told it was being processed. “

Bernardo was told that his contract was not renewed.

CBC News received the email Bernardo sent to law enforcement staff on December 13, 2020, in which he announced that he had resigned his position to return to law practice. Bernardo is now a lawyer at Miller Thomson LLP in Calgary.

As far as Kimmel knows, no formal investigation into sexual harassment was carried out and the Prime Minister’s Office offered no official support to the women concerned.

After Bernardo left, Kimmel spoke with Amber Griffith, the prime minister’s chief of staff, about what she considered to be insufficient measures to deal with harassment. Kimmel recommended that staff be provided with a written policy on sexual harassment that would include a clear mechanism for complaints and investigations, according to the document.

Kimmel said she was not sure she could provide her staff with a safe working environment before a policy was implemented.

The trial suggests that Griffith was offended by the comment and said, “How can you say that? We promoted the woman who came forward with that complaint against Ivan [Bernardo]. “

‘Unconscious, malicious and malicious actions and passivity’

After the December holidays, Kimmel learned that senior employees had circulated rumors that she was the source of several leaks to the media, according to the document. She maintains that she has not disclosed any information unauthorized.

On January 6, 2021, Kimmel again raised concerns about Dreeshen’s aggressive behavior in October and continued with “excessive drinking,” this time to Livingston, now Kenney’s chief of staff. She also confided that an anonymous account on social media had started tweeting details about her relationship with the minister.

The same concerns about Dreeshen’s intoxication had been raised to other senior staff in Kenney, and the document says no action was taken.

The Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Devin Dreeshen, is listed in the trial, who claims that he drank too much and it affected the working environment. (Nathan Gross / CBC)

Three days later, the statement said she met again with Kenney’s general secretary to express concern about the rumors leveled at her. Kaumeyer told Kimmel she would not be fired.

On February 5, Kimmel was told she was fired, claiming Kaumeyer said it was “the best thing for you.”

“We’ve seen a lot in the last two years, cases or media stories about dishonesty in political offices and political employees who suffer and often have to suffer in silence. And this is a case that’s just going to blow the lid off it and show “Everyone deserves a safe and healthy work environment,” Kimmel’s lawyer, Kathryn Marshall, an employment lawyer at Milburn & Associates, told CBC News.

“Politicians must lead by example, and this will set a new standard for how political staff should be treated.”

The lawsuit demands more than $ 399,000 for compensation and the equivalence of her salary until the end of the contract in May 2023.

It lists the injuries as exposing Kimmel to a “poisoned work environment”, fabricating and spreading rumors against her, failing to implement a robust policy of sexual harassment, terminating her employment as reprisals, causing mental illness and damage to reputation and affecting her future employment opportunities.

“She has suffered significant mental and physical suffering due to the unscrupulous, malicious and malicious acts and passivities,” it concludes.

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