Threats, bullying, harassment: Former staff at Calgary Drop-In Centre describe 'toxic' workplace

Several former employees at the Calgary Drop-In Centre say senior leaders failed to act on complaints of bullying and harassment. Two employees say they were fired for speaking out. Another was diagnosed with PTSD.

Ex-employees say they were told they’d be fired if they spoke out

Stephanie Raynor-Hohol resigned from the Calgary Drop-In Centre in January after being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder related to the sexual harassment and psychological abuse she suffered. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Stephanie Raynor-Hohol was so scared of one of her co-workers that she wet herself after a confrontation in her office. Moments after he left, she vomited into a garbage can.

She says he grabbed her arm and threatened that she would be fired if she ever tried to undermine his authority.

A month earlier, that same co-worker yelled and swore at her, told her to "stay in line and know your place," said Raynor-Hohol

He then slapped her on the buttocks twice and said "there's a good girl," according to Raynor-Hohol

That co-worker — director Steve Baldwin — is no longer with the Drop-In Centre.  

An internal email in December 2017 said it was the result of a restructuring and a re-alignment of responsibilities at the senior leadership level.

"As a result of these changes, Steve Baldwin is pursuing new opportunities," wrote Debbie Newman, the Drop-In Centre's executive director.

Baldwin began working at the Drop-In Centre in 2009. His father, Dermot Baldwin, is one of the facility's founders.

Raynor-Hohol says she reported the first incident to Newman in November 2016. She says Newman became angry and said she was sick of the witch-hunt involving Baldwin. 

Ken Uzeloc is the chair of the Calgary Drop-In Centre board of directors. Debbie Newman is the executive director. (Calgary Drop-In Centre)

Raynor-Hohol says Newman warned her that if anyone spoke out to the Drop-In Centre's board of directors, they would be fired.   

Despite that, Raynor-Hohol took her concerns to two members of the Drop-In centre's board of directors in early February 2017. She says she was told by the chair of the board that an independent investigation would be started. 

Less than two weeks later, on Feb. 22, Newman sent an email to Raynor-Hohol saying that her pay would be cut off. 

"Given that you are a new employee, and as per our sick time policy, we are not in a position to continue paying you while you are away from work," wrote Newman.

Two days later, the board chair, Ken Uzeloc, sent an email to Raynor-Hohol, saying the board had approved the investigation and "you will remain to be paid."

​In an email to CBC News, Baldwin — through his lawyer — denied the allegations.

'Significantly impacted by the sexual harassment and psychological abuse'

Raynor-Hohol, a former Top 40 under 40 award winner in Calgary, was hired in October 2016 as the associate director of fund development and government relations. The position paid $110,000 per year.

Four months later, she was off work and diagnosed by her doctor and a psychologist with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Ms. Raynor-Hohol presents as significantly impacted by the sexual harassment and psychological abuse she suffered at the DI," read a report from a Calgary psychologist, who diagnosed Raynor-Hohol with PTSD. 

The Calgary Drop-In Centre boardroom where Stephanie Raynor-Hohol says she was sexually harassed, bullied and threatened by a fellow director. (Submitted)

​Newman and Uzeloc refused interview requests. Instead, Uzeloc issued a statement to CBC News:

"The Calgary Drop-In and Rehab centre cannot comment on specific personnel matters. We take any and all personnel related concerns seriously and we investigate them in accordance with our policies and processes. This may warrant an internal or an independent, third party investigation depending on the situation. Recommendations coming out of any investigation are then taken to senior leadership and/or the board of directors to determine the next steps and take any appropriate actions. As an organization we are committed to continually reviewing our policies and procedures to ensure a safe, respectful and positive working environment for our staff and volunteers. Our commitment to kindness extends not only to those we serve but also to those who are part of our DI community," said Uzeloc. 

Uzeloc would not answer any questions related to when Newman or any other members of the board were told about allegations of workplace bullying and harassment.  

The Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre — Canada's biggest homeless shelter — listed 264 full- and part-time employees, with a budget of $23.6-million, in its most recent financial filing to the end of March 2017. 

In fiscal 2016-2017, the centre received more than half of its revenue from the City of Calgary and Government of Alberta. The province contributed $13.3 million last year, while the city contributes on average $500,000 a year.

CBC News requested a comment from Irfan Sabir, the minister of community and social services — the government department that provides funding for the shelter. Instead, Sabir's press secretary sent a statement.

"We are deeply concerned with the issues raised with respect to the Calgary Drop-In Centre and take all matters of harassment very seriously. Staff with the Community and Social Services Ministry have contacted the centre and will be looking over their code of conduct and harassment policies to ensure they comply with conditions set out in their grant funding agreement. Our government believes that everyone deserves to work in a safe and harassment-free environment," wrote Samantha Power. 

Employees fired after speaking out in 2016

Rudy Varga started at the Drop-In Centre in February 2013, working in the clothing room as one of the team leaders. He moved up the ranks and was named manager of the department in 2015.

The DI later offered him more money and a promotion to stay with the organization after he received an outside job offer.

In November 2015, he was moved into a new position in fund development working under Baldwin.

Varga says things quickly soured and he grew more frustrated with the lack of direction he was getting. Varga took his concerns to executive director Newman in April 2016. The following week he was laid off. 

Varga signed what he described as a non-disclosure agreement, received one month's pay and was escorted out of the building by the director he had complained about.

Ben Lee is a former manager at the Calgary Drop In and Rehab centre. He was fired April 2016, four days days after raising concerns about former director Steve Baldwin to Executive Director Debbie Newman. (Submitted by Ben Lee)

The same thing happened to Ben Lee, a former manager of donations and recycling. He took his concerns to Newman on April 22, 2016. He says he was fired five days later and given one week's pay. 

My concerns were dismissed immediately and no follow-up plan was offered.- Ben Lee, a former manager of donations and recycling

"Total apathy," he said when he was asked to describe the way Newman responded to his complaints. 

"My concerns were dismissed immediately and no follow-up plan was offered," said Lee. 

Lee wrote to six members of the board of directors in June 2016 to outline his concerns and to explain the circumstances surrounding his dismissal. He says no one replied to his email.

Two other former employees told CBC News they witnessed abusive and threatening behaviour by Baldwin and complained about it to Newman in early 2016.

'It's a place of fear, everyone was terrified'

One woman, who worked in administration, said she saw Baldwin belittle, berate and blame staff members on numerous occasions. She says it was a toxic and stressful work environment.

"It's a place of fear. Everyone was terrified," she said.

The woman said the director yelled and screamed at her for "insignificant" things she had done. 

CBC News has agreed not to reveal her identity because she fears for her safety if her name is made public.

She says she saw several people — including Varga and Lee — stand up or speak out against bullying and harassment, and she says they were fired shortly afterward. 

"I saw, I would say, three or four colleagues go through the process of [going through] the right channels, going to HR, to Debbie [Newman] and seeing the backlash of that," she said.

"I saw the pattern of people standing up for what they believed in and standing up for themselves and not taking abuse, and not putting themselves into abusive situations, and then the ramification of that was termination," she said.

"I thought I wasn't going to follow their footsteps and there was absolutely no point in me going through those channels," she said. 

She said Baldwin was in charge of "people, culture and community," which included human resources. So going forward with any complaints "would accomplish nothing," she said.

She quit her job in early 2017.

'I had to resign to protect myself'

Raynor-Hohol resigned in January. Even though Baldwin is no longer there, she says she could not go back to a workplace she still considers unsafe.

"The thought of going there day-after-day, in that office where that had happened, in that boardroom where that other incident happened, and knowing that the people, the person, a woman that I had went to, two women that I had went to, numerous times didn't do anything," she said.

"It was not a safe environment for me, whatsoever. I was left with no choice. They tied my hands, that I had to resign to protect myself."

In an email to Raynor-Hohol, the board chair said he was disappointed that she chose to resign. Uzeloc said the DI had gone to great lengths to assist her and to ensure a smooth transition and successful return to work.

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.


Editor's Note added Feb. 16, 2017: 

CBC News repeatedly asked for an interview with Steve Baldwin about the allegations being made against him. We reported on Feb. 5, in the above story: "​In an email to CBC News, Baldwin — through his lawyer — denied the allegations." On Feb. 15, Baldwin's lawyer asked that we include Baldwin's Feb. 8 statement released on his Facebook page. We are providing that link here: https://www.facebook.com/713695036

About the Author

Bryan Labby

Enterprise reporter

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.