One hollow guarantee as seen by the subsequent events

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

Diana
Bentley, Kristin Booth, Patricia Fagan and Hannah Miller — four actresses from
the theatre filed lawsuits claiming $4.25 million in damages from Soulpepper
and $3.6 million from Schultz himself.

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The alleged
plaintiffs claimed that they were victimized by “a sexual predator who . . .
had well-developed methods for targeting actresses and luring them into
situations that he considered optimal for sexually harassing and assaulting
them.”

Soulpepper’s
board of directors say they had no knowledge of the claims until the lawsuits
were filed, which displays the lack of interest in maintaining a healthy work
culture.

An
independent review done by a workplace policy expert in the 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 the theatre.

Soulpepper
Theatre Company is not only facing a lawsuit, but its very survival is at
stake. Moreover, production of Amadeus is already canceled by the artists and
also those who have bought tickets.

The
government has stopped funding until the organization ensures healthy and
harassment-free work environments. This would, in turn, help the organizations
to place robust systems to prevent abuse and to avoid the risk of financial and
reputational damage in the future.

In
short, this would serve as a learning lesson for boards of directors of all
arts groups to be proactive in making cultural changes now and to ensure the
well-being of their employees by maintaining healthy work culture.

Moreover,
the management could have avoided this situation by making some changes to
their existing policies, procedures, programs, and training to reflect the
amendments made by Bill 132 (Occupational Health and Safety Act).

The
workplace harassment programs at the theatre need to be revamped to include
more specific detail on reporting and investigation processes, and has to be
created in consultation with the joint health and safety committee, or a health
and safety representative. Workplace Anti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual
Harassment Policy (Bills 168 and 132) – Ontario provides a good starting point.

The
new harassment program and accompanying policies must inform artists and
employees how to file complaints, as well as the steps that will be taken to
maintain confidentiality.

The
employees and artists must be properly educated from time to time about
Workplace Anti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual Harassment Policy and measures
that need to be taken to avoid the same.

Employees
should be assured that if they rejected sexual advances or lodged a complaint
when they were being harassed or discriminated, they will not be demoted,
dismissed, disciplined, or denied a promotion, advancement, or employment
opportunities.

The
management should also be reminded that under Bill 132 insufficient action or
resolution on the part of the employer to investigate properly may result in
the Ministry of Labor conducting an investigation at the employer’s expense.

The
major problem with the theatre’s workplace violence and harassment policy was
that the issues were required to be reported in writing to the executive
director — Schultz’s wife, Leslie Lester or to the director 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 procedures and file a complaint with HR.
Always give the employer an opportunity to fix the problem, first and make sure
to consult your employee handbook’s policies and maintain a paper trail
throughout the entire process. If the HR does not have your back, it means you
have to start looking for help elsewhere.

In my
opinion, you can file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
(HRTO) within one year of the last incident of sexual harassment. The Human
Rights Legal Support Centre may help people file human rights applications.

According
to the HRTO guidelines, the applicant will be asked on the application or
response form if they are willing to try mediation. The goal of mediation is to
help the parties reach an agreement (settlement) that resolves the issues in
the application. Both the sides will be given equal opportunity to tell an HRTO
mediator about what happened and what they would like to do about it. The
mediator does not decide the application. He or she will consider what you say
and look at the documents provided to help find a resolution that is
satisfactory to both sides.

The
applicant will need to sign a confidentiality agreement before the mediation.
If he/she settle the case in mediation, they will have to complete a settlement
form. The HRTO will issue a letter to acknowledge the settlement and close the
file. If he/she can’t reach a settlement, the file will proceed and may be
placed in a queue to be scheduled for a hearing. Mediation at the HRTO is a
voluntary process. The applicant is encouraged to mediate but if one or both of
the parties is not interested in trying mediation, the application will go
directly to a hearing.

In-short
Soulpepper Theatre could have avoided reputational and financial damage by
maintaining a healthy work culture and re-shaping the existing Workplace
Anti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual Harassment Policy.