One lawsuits claiming $4.25 million in damages from

Topics: ArtArtists

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Last updated: December 30, 2019

One of the co-founder and former artistic director ofSoulpepper Theatre, Albert Schultz, has been accused of bullying, sexually assaulting,and harassing women who worked for him.

Diana Bentley, Kristin Booth, Patricia Fagan and HannahMiller — four actresses from the theatre filed lawsuits claiming $4.25 millionin damages from Soulpepper and $3.6 million from Schultz himself.The alleged plaintiffs claimed that they were victimized by”a sexual predator who . . . had well-developed methods for targeting actressesand luring them into situations that he considered optimal for sexuallyharassing and assaulting them.

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“Soulpepper’s board of directors say they had no knowledgeof the claims until the lawsuits were filed, which displays the lack ofinterest for maintaining a healthy work culture.An independent review done by a workplace policy expert inthe fall of 2017 stated that the procedures would maintain a safe and healthy workplace,but this was just a hollow guarantee as seen by the subsequent events at thetheatre.Soulpepper Theatre Company is not only facing a lawsuit,but its very survival is at stake. Moreover, production of Amadeus is alreadycancelled by the artists and also those who have bought tickets.

The government has stopped funding until the organizationensures healthy and harassment-free work environments. This would in turn helpthe organizations to place robust systems to prevent abuse and to avoid therisk of financial and reputational damage in the future.In short, this would serve as a learning lesson for boardsof directors of all arts groups to be proactive in making cultural changes nowand to ensure the well-being of their employees by maintaining healthy workculture.Moreover, the management could have avoided this situationsby making some changes to their existing policies, procedures, programs, andtraining to reflect the amendments made by Bill 132 (Occupational Health andSafety Act). The workplace harassment programs at the theatre needs tobe revamped to include more specific detail on reporting and investigationprocesses, and has to be created in consultation with the joint health andsafety committee, or a health and safety representative. WorkplaceAnti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual Harassment Policy (Bills 168 and 132) –Ontario provides a good starting point. The new harassment program and accompanying policies mustinform artists and employees how to file complaints, as well as the steps thatwill be taken to maintain confidentiality.

Standard guidelines should becreated to ensure the consistency of investigations. The employees and artists must be properly educated fromtime to time about Workplace Anti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual HarassmentPolicy and measures that needs to be taken to avoid the same. Harassment shouldnot be ignored, as silence can and often is interpreted as acceptance.

Employees should be assured that if they rejected sexual advancesor lodged a complaint when they were being harassed or discriminated, they willnot be demoted, dismissed, disciplined, or denied a promotion, advancement, or employmentopportunities.The employer must complete a thorough investigation once awritten complaint is received. The organization should ensure that, wherepracticable, the investigation is completed within 90 days of the complaintbeing filed. During the course of investigation the employer shouldensure that all the information obtained must not be disclosed, unless thedisclosure is required by law or necessary for further investigation.The management should also be reminded that under Bill 132insufficient action or resolution on the part of the employer to investigateproperly may result in the Ministry of Labor conducting an investigation at theemployer’s expense. Once investigations are completed employers need to beprepared to provide written reports to both the alleged harasser and thecomplainant that detail the outcome of investigations, and the correctiveactions taken. In addition, employers must review their harassment programannually, and adjust its contents as necessary.

The major problem with the theatre’s workplace violence andharassment policy was that the issues were required to be reported in writingto the executive director — Schultz’s wife, Leslie Lester or to thedirector of human resources, Sarah Farrell, also the company’s general counsel.This created a perception of bias and fear of reprisal amongst the artists.Therefore, in such a situation follow company proceduresand file a complaint with HR. Always give the employer an opportunity to fixthe problem, first and make sure to consult your employee handbook’s policiesand maintain a paper trail throughout the entire process. If you feelcompletely left behind by HR and it is clear that they don’t have your back,it’s time to start looking for support elsewhere.They can file an application with the Human Rights Tribunalof Ontario (HRTO) within one year of the last incident of sexual harassment.

The Human Rights Legal Support Centre may help people file human rightsapplications.The applicant will be asked on the application or responseform if they are willing to try mediation. The goal of mediation is to help theparties reach an agreement (settlement) that resolves the issues in theapplication. The HRTO mediates disputes using an active listening approach.This means that both sides will have an opportunity to tell a HRTO mediatorwhat happened and what they would like to see done about it. The mediator doesnot decide the application.

He or she will consider what you say and look atthe documents provided to help find a resolution that is satisfactory to bothsides.The applicant will need to sign a confidentiality agreementbefore the mediation. If he/she settle the case in mediation, they will have tocomplete a settlement form. The HRTO will issue a letter to acknowledge thesettlement and close the file. If he/she can’t reach a settlement, the filewill proceed and may be placed in queue to be scheduled for a hearing. Mediation at the HRTOis a voluntary process.

The applicant is encouraged to mediate but if one orboth of the parties is not interested in trying mediation, the application willgo directly to a hearing.In-short Soulpepper Theatre could have avoided reputationaland financial damage by maintaining a healthy work culture and re-shaping theexisting Workplace Anti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual Harassment Policy.

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