Calgary

Lawsuit against premier's office by former staffer enters evidence, testimony phase

Ariella Kimmel, the former Alberta government staffer suing the office of Premier Jason Kenney, has filed her final reply, pushing the case on to the next step. Discovery for the case, including producing documents and examining witnesses, is expected to wrap up before the height of summer.

Jason Kenney not named in suit but plaintiff's lawyer intends to subpoena him

Plaintiff Ariella Kimmel's lawsuit is entering the discovery phase, which will include document procurement and testimony from those involved. (David Bajer/CBC)

Ariella Kimmel, the former Alberta government staffer suing the office of Premier Jason Kenney, has filed her final reply, pushing the case on to the next step. 

Kimmel responded to the premier's office's statement of defence, pushing back against what her lawyer calls "character assassination."

The plaintiff's reply marks the end of pleadings and moves the case into discovery — where evidence and testimony is explored. 

Last October, Kimmel launched a lawsuit against the premier's office for wrongful dismissal, alleging she suffered from a toxic workplace culture and was fired as retribution for speaking out about misconduct and sexual harassment issues there. 

The allegations have not been proven in court and the premier himself is not named in the lawsuit. 

Kenney's office denied it ignored issues of harassment, as Kimmel alleged, though it confirmed several people were aware of the incidents. The statement of defence said Kimmel never asked for these issues to be dealt with. It denies Kimmel was subjected to a toxic work environment or was dismissed because she blew the whistle.

The lawsuit going public prompted the premier's office to launch a review of its HR policies, which has not yet been delivered. Devin Dreeshen, who was the minister of agriculture and forestry, resigned from cabinet during the fallout

Allegations and counter-allegations

In its statement of defence, the office made counter-allegations that Kimmel engaged in unprofessional behaviour during her time in the legislature, including disrespecting staff, gossiping with her colleagues and criticizing staff and her supervisors. It also claims she was confronted about her conduct but failed to rectify it.

The latest filing in the case – Kimmel's reply to the statement of defence — pushes back on those accusations. 

"It's not uncommon for a defendant to try and smear the character of a plaintiff in the pleading and raise things that were never raised before because they've been completely fabricated," said Kathryn Marshall, Kimmel's lawyer and a partner at Levitt Sheikh. 

Kimmel reiterated her allegations in the reply that the premier's office failed to have a proper policy on sexual harassment and procedures were not compliant with provincial worker health and safety protocols.

"Staff who were subjected to harassment and inappropriate conduct did not know who to turn to or how to make a complaint," it reads.

The premier's office has maintained it took action on any harassment complaint brought forward during Kimmel's employment, that harassment policies were in place and that staff were required to take respect-in-the-workplace training. It further says any allegations raised would have been dealt with in confidence to protect the personal information of those involved.

Marshall says her client was never contacted to be interviewed for the HR review. 

The premier's office told CBC News on Monday that it cannot comment on the specifics of confidential human resource matters or matters before the courts. 

The statement said the independent review of HR policies by Jamie Pytel included feedback from current and former staff.

"Any new policies resulting from the review will be made public and communicated to all staff to ensure they are fully aware of policies and procedures," it said.

Case moves into discovery phase

The delivery of the reply to the statement signals the end of pleadings. The case will now enter the discovery process, in which both sides will produce documents and information related to the allegations. Marshall estimates that step will be wrapped up this spring, and then testimony from witnesses will be heard, likely before the height of summer. 

"The government has given us some pushback on questioning Premier Kenney, and we've made it clear that we intend to subpoena him and we intend to question him," she said. 

"Ultimately, the buck stops with him."

It could be a year or two before the lawsuit wraps up.

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