Calgary·CBC Investigates

Former employees launch bullying accusations against Lethbridge principal

For three years, an employee of a Lethbridge, Alta., high school says working with her boss, principal Wayne Pallett, was like working for Jekyll and Hyde.

Principal, Lethbridge School Division both declined comment

Four current or former staff members of a Lethbridge high school have spoken to CBC News to share allegations of bullying against the school's principal. CBC News has granted the employees confidentiality. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

For three years, an employee of a Lethbridge, Alta., high school says working with her boss, principal Wayne Pallett, was like working for Jekyll and Hyde.

"Erratic. It's very aggressive and then it can change within minutes to be the exact opposite," she said.

CBC News has granted the employee confidentiality over concerns her employment could be affected by her comments.

She's one of four current or former staff members who shared similar experiences.

Since CBC News started making calls about the complaints, it has learned the Lethbridge School Division is conducting a review of the school's environment.

I have witnessed staff members of all levels crying or angry because of him and that's from teachers to support staff.- Former Lethbridge high school employee

This employee said she was warned of Pallett's behaviour when she was hired but she didn't start to become the target of it until a year later. She claimed she was yelled at on more than one occasion. 

"I've never had anybody look as if they're going to hit me because they look so angry, and red-faced and mouth contorted," she said. 

A former employee at the school described Pallett as a verbally abusive bully. 

"I have witnessed staff members of all levels crying or angry because of him and that's from teachers to support staff, to even saw him make a vice principal cry before," she said.

CBC News has also agreed to keep this former employee's identity confidential to protect her children, who are currently enrolled at the school.

She said she was never yelled at but said her boss would use a demeaning tone to belittle her.

A physical toll

It happened so often, the former employee said, she would be reduced to tears. It eventually started to take a physical toll.

"Not sleeping, I didn't want to eat, like I couldn't, I had to force myself to eat. I lost almost 20 pounds and [was] having panic attacks," she said.

She said she had never experienced those symptoms before working with the principal.

The allegations all happened within the last five years.

The principal of Lethbridge Collegiate Institute and the school division have declined to comment on allegations raised by current and former staff. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

According to Lethbridge Collegiate Institute's website, the principal has been a high school administrator for 20 years. CBC News spoke to Pallett but he declined comment.

CBC News requested an interview with the Lethbridge School Division. It declined to comment specifically on matters relating to personnel, and stated it is committed to following policy pertaining to complaints laid. 

That is something the employees say they tried to do. 

Employees say complaints went unheard

Three out of four employees said they brought the matter up to the division's human resources department but said their complaints were not handled properly, and often, nothing would happen.

"I'm by far not the first that has been through this, gone through the proper channels to try to report it, to try to address it. And it goes nowhere," one employee told the CBC.

All four attempted to seek help from their union, CUPE Local 2843. 

While CUPE would not confirm any specifics relating to the principal or school, it offered the following statement:

"CUPE has been dealing with numerous complaints about the conduct of at least one principal at Lethbridge Public Schools."

Union says it takes concerns seriously

"We cannot discuss individual complaints, however we treat each complaint seriously and respect the views of our members. If we feel there is merit to a complaint we file a grievance as per the collective agreement. CUPE local officials offered assistance to a number of members who have refused union representation." 

None of the complainants was impressed with the way CUPE handled their concerns.

"We went to the union. We discussed things with the union. I've emailed the union. And we've always received a response like, well he's the boss. He makes the calls," one employee said.

CBC News has learned that since it started making calls about complaints about the principal of a Lethbridge high school, the school district has begun a review of the school's environment. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

CUPE said in its statement, rude behaviour by a supervisor isn't harassment unless the behaviour is repeated and/or targeted to an individual or group of individuals. In these situations, CUPE said it can and frequently does intervene with employers to bring in a mediator to handle conflicts, and not all complainants warrant launching a grievance.

CBC News also reached out to the Alberta Teachers Association, of which the principal is a member, to find out if any formal complaints have been filed. For privacy reasons, the ATA declined to confirm.

The current and former staff members CBC spoke to say they are still dealing with the mental aftermath of what they experienced.

One said it's scary to speak up but feels nobody else should have to suffer in a toxic work environment. 

"If I'm going down, I can know that I stood up for myself and I stood up for the people that have already been through this and hopefully something happens." 

About the Author

Terri Trembath

Video Journalist

Terri Trembath is a video journalist who joined CBC Calgary in 2008. You can reach her at terri.trembath@cbc.ca.

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