One ofthe co-founders and former artistic director of Soulpepper Theatre, AlbertSchultz, has been accused of bullying, sexually assaulting, and harassing womenwho worked for him.
DianaBentley, Kristin Booth, Patricia Fagan and Hannah Miller — four actresses fromthe theatre filed lawsuits claiming $4.25 million in damages from Soulpepperand $3.6 million from Schultz himself.The allegedplaintiffs claimed that they were victimized by “a sexual predator who . . .
had well-developed methods for targeting actresses and luring them intosituations that he considered optimal for sexually harassing and assaultingthem.”Soulpepper’sboard of directors say they had no knowledge of the claims until the lawsuitswere filed, which displays the lack of interest in maintaining a healthy workculture.Anindependent review done by a workplace policy expert in the fall of 2017 statedthat the procedures would maintain a safe and healthy workplace, but this wasjust a hollow guarantee as seen by the subsequent events at the theatre.SoulpepperTheatre Company is not only facing a lawsuit, but its very survival is atstake. Moreover, production of Amadeus is already canceled by the artists andalso those who have bought tickets.
Thegovernment has stopped funding until the organization ensures healthy andharassment-free work environments. This would, in turn, help the organizationsto place robust systems to prevent abuse and to avoid the risk of financial andreputational damage in the future.Inshort, this would serve as a learning lesson for boards of directors of allarts groups to be proactive in making cultural changes now and to ensure thewell-being of their employees by maintaining healthy work culture.Moreover,the management could have avoided this situation by making some changes totheir existing policies, procedures, programs, and training to reflect theamendments made by Bill 132 (Occupational Health and Safety Act). Theworkplace harassment programs at the theatre need to be revamped to includemore specific detail on reporting and investigation processes, and has to becreated in consultation with the joint health and safety committee, or a healthand safety representative.
Workplace Anti-Violence, Harassment, and SexualHarassment Policy (Bills 168 and 132) – Ontario provides a good starting point.Thenew harassment program and accompanying policies must inform artists andemployees how to file complaints, as well as the steps that will be taken tomaintain confidentiality.Theemployees and artists must be properly educated from time to time aboutWorkplace Anti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual Harassment Policy and measuresthat need to be taken to avoid the same.
Employeesshould be assured that if they rejected sexual advances or lodged a complaintwhen they were being harassed or discriminated, they will not be demoted,dismissed, disciplined, or denied a promotion, advancement, or employmentopportunities.Themanagement should also be reminded that under Bill 132 insufficient action orresolution on the part of the employer to investigate properly may result inthe Ministry of Labor conducting an investigation at the employer’s expense. Themajor problem with the theatre’s workplace violence and harassment policy wasthat the issues were required to be reported in writing to the executivedirector — Schultz’s wife, Leslie Lester or to the director of human resources,Sarah Farrell, also the company’s general counsel. This created a perception ofbias and fear of reprisal amongst the artists.
Therefore,in such a situation follow company procedures and file a complaint with HR.Always give the employer an opportunity to fix the problem, first and make sureto consult your employee handbook’s policies and maintain a paper trailthroughout the entire process. If the HR does not have your back, it means youhave to start looking for help elsewhere.In myopinion, you can file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario(HRTO) within one year of the last incident of sexual harassment. The HumanRights Legal Support Centre may help people file human rights applications.Accordingto the HRTO guidelines, the applicant will be asked on the application orresponse form if they are willing to try mediation. The goal of mediation is tohelp the parties reach an agreement (settlement) that resolves the issues inthe application. Both the sides will be given equal opportunity to tell an HRTOmediator about what happened and what they would like to do about it.
Themediator does not decide the application. He or she will consider what you sayand look at the documents provided to help find a resolution that issatisfactory to both sides.Theapplicant will need to sign a confidentiality agreement before the mediation.If he/she settle the case in mediation, they will have to complete a settlementform. The HRTO will issue a letter to acknowledge the settlement and close thefile. If he/she can’t reach a settlement, the file will proceed and may beplaced in a queue to be scheduled for a hearing. Mediation at the HRTO is avoluntary process.
The applicant is encouraged to mediate but if one or both ofthe parties is not interested in trying mediation, the application will godirectly to a hearing.In-shortSoulpepper Theatre could have avoided reputational and financial damage bymaintaining a healthy work culture and re-shaping the existing WorkplaceAnti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual Harassment Policy.