Five former employees allege Edmonton construction firm ignored sexual misconduct in 'poisoned' workplace
Coventry Homes partner Robin Nasserdeen denies allegations, pleads not guilty to sexual assault charge
On June 1, Coventry Homes issued this statement after CBC News published a story on May 31 detailing allegations against the company and its director of sales, Robin Nasserdeen.
Here is the statement attributed to Coventry Homes president and CEO Henri Rodier:
"This week's allegations against Robin Nasserdeen have made it unworkable for Mr. Nasserdeen to continue to be with Coventry Homes. While legal proceedings are underway, he will be stepping away from the company to allow us to continue to focus on what we do best: building beautiful homes for families.
"For decades we have prided ourselves on being a safe, harmonious place to work. It's important to Coventry Homes that we maintain a culture of safety and inclusivity, while serving our staff, customers and retaining our positive relationships with all of our partners in the construction sector.
"Given that these matters are before the courts, we will not be making any further comments until we know the outcome of these proceedings. In the meantime, our key focus is on ensuring that all staff feel safe and free to express any concerns they may have. We have been a family-run firm for almost 50 years and our staff family is important to us."
The original article appears below:
WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.
Five women are suing a prominent Edmonton home construction company for a combined $6.2 million, alleging a company partner's sexual misconduct created a "poisoned" work environment where employees were subjected to harassment and complaints about workplace safety were ignored.
The claims allege that Coventry Homes failed to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against sales director Robin Nasserdeen, even after he was charged by Edmonton police for sexually assaulting an employee — and that others who expressed concern about his conduct were pushed out of the company.
Each claim alleges that Coventry Homes fostered an unsafe work environment where employees were exposed to "harassment, sexual harassment, unwanted sexual solicitation, bullying, and discriminatory conduct."
Nasserdeen denies the allegations in the civil suits and the allegation of sexual assault he faces in criminal court. A lawyer for Coventry Homes declined to comment.
Two of the women who seek damages allege they were sexually abused by Nasserdeen. They name him individually in their claims and allege the company's negligence allowed for his misconduct.
The other three plaintiffs allege they were pushed out of their jobs for raising concerns about Nasserdeen's behaviour and how the company was handling the allegations against him.
"Nasserdeen was an unfit executive but was provided with significant power and independence to oversee his female subordinates," read the statements of claim from the two alleged victims of sexual abuse.
The suits describe Nasserdeen, 42, as a primary shareholder in Coventry Homes, a company which has built hundreds of homes across the greater Edmonton area since it was established in 1976.
The company, one of the largest new home builders in the city, is involved in charitable partnerships and sponsorships, including with the Edmonton Oilers. Nasserdeen often serves as the face of the company, appearing in advertisements and interviews.
Companies need to realize, regardless of the seniority of their employees, everybody has to follow the rules.-Matthew Fisher, labour lawyer
Matthew Fisher, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in employment law, says the allegations against Nasserdeen and Coventry Homes are egregious and, if proven, could be precedent-setting for workplace misconduct cases across Canada.
"The allegations that are made here suggest an organization that had some very, very serious problems from the top," he said. "Companies need to realize, regardless of the seniority of their employees, everybody has to follow the rules."
Nasserdeen's criminal trial could clear the way for a civil finding of liability, said Fisher, who is not involved in the case.
"If the criminal trial finds guilt, I think there would be very little difficulty in showing that this workplace environment is not one that anyone should expect to endure," he said.
"It very well could set a watermark for damages."
None of the allegations, civil or criminal, have been proven in court. No statements of defence have been filed in the civil suits but are expected to be provided to the court by June 16.
Nasserdeen was charged by Edmonton police in April 2022 with one count of sexual assault. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial, with jury selection set to begin next February.
The charge was laid more than a year after former employee Jessica McNabb reported to police that she had been sexually assaulted.
McNabb, who worked as an area sales manager and reported to Nasserdeen, alleges that she was raped in a parking lot on the outskirts of Edmonton in March 2021 after he asked her to a work meeting.
McNabb, 32, alleges the work dinner began with Nasserdeen offering her shots of tequila. She tried to decline but Nasserdeen continued to order drinks and ask explicit questions, her statement of claim says.
My life has been forever changed.- Jessica McNabb
She alleges that one of her drinks was spiked and that Nasserdeen put her in the passenger seat of his vehicle before driving to a parking lot. She was groped, then assaulted repeatedly, the statement of claim says, adding that she lost consciousness more than once.
McNabb said the assault, and the way it was handled by her former employer, has left her traumatized — struggling with PTSD, anxiety and severe depression.
"My life has been forever changed," McNabb told CBC. "I didn't even want to live. I was a shell of a human being."
McNabb reported the assault to police about two weeks later. She completed a rape kit at an Edmonton hospital where she was instructed to take medical leave.
She never returned to work.
"[McNabb] had no choice but to treat her employment as having been constructively terminated," reads her statement of claim.
"Coventry Homes failed in its most basic obligation to ensure a safe workplace … and, in so doing, terminated the employment relationship."
McNabb's lawsuit, filed on March 15 of this year, is the first of five separate statements of claim filed in Edmonton Court of King's Bench. The claims seek damages including wrongful dismissal, unsafe working conditions and mental suffering. The four other suits were filed on May 10.
While publication bans are customary in sexual assault cases, there is no court-ordered ban on the publication of McNabb's name.
All five women are represented by the same lawyer, Aaron Levitin, and shared their stories with CBC.
Three allege they were constructively terminated. The term describes a situation in which the employer has failed to obey the employment contract in a significant way, forcing the employee to quit.
Two others allege wrongful termination — that their dismissals were in reprisal for voicing concerns about Nasserdeen and the company's response.
McNabb said she and her former colleagues are hopeful their claims send a message about the importance of maintaining safe workplaces and investigating complaints of misconduct.
They want to hold Coventry Homes accountable, she said.
"We're doing this to set precedents for them and other companies. They can't turn a blind eye to this ugliness."
McNabb said she feared no one would believe her. She hopes her refusal to stay silent will help survivors find their voices.
"This isn't about the money,"' she said. "I want to be a light for others."
Nasserdeen denies allegations
In a statement to CBC, Nasserdeen maintained his innocence.
"The claims of assault and harassment against me are false and the truth will come out," he wrote in the statement. "I am eager to clear my name before the public at the appropriate time in a court of law."
According to the statements of claim, after his arrest in April 2022, Nasserdeen sent an email to all Coventry Homes staff, explaining he was temporarily stepping away from his role to handle his legal issues.
"I have been as shocked as anyone by allegations that have been made against me," Nasserdeen wrote, according to the claims.
"Unfortunately, rumours have also begun spreading at work and are disrupting our otherwise exemplary workplace."
He returned to the workplace five months later.
The statements of claim say that on April 11, 2022, Coventry Homes CEO Henri Rodier sent a company-wide message to employees, describing an "allegation of misconduct" that had been made against Nasserdeen.
"We know Robin well, I know Robin well, given the interactions with both women and men at our company for the last 10 years," Rodier wrote.
"For this reason, along with various factors, we have reason to take pause about her allegations."
WATCH | Former employees talk about their experiences:
In June 2022, Edmonton police detectives provided a warning to company management that Nasserdeen had been charged with sexual assault.
"Despite assuring the Edmonton police that Nasserdeen would not be returned to the workplace until the conclusion of his criminal trial in February 2024, Coventry Homes returned Nasserdeen to the workplace on Sept. 12, 2022," reads McNabb's statement of claim.
In a statement to CBC, the Edmonton Police Service confirmed that Coventry Homes management was issued a warning about Nasserdeen in June 2022.
Alleged sexual coercion
One of the statements of claim was filed by Caitlin Garrioch, who says that after years of being harassed by Nasserdeen at work, she was coerced into having sex with him under threat of termination.
Garrioch, 38, said learning of the criminal allegation against Nasserdeen sent her spiralling.
Everything she had endured came into focus, she said in an interview.
She had worked for Coventry Homes for nearly a decade, reporting directly to Nasserdeen. She was "relentlessly targeted and harassed," according to her statement of claim.
"I suffered for years, years," Garrioch told CBC. "The type of control that he had over me, it's unexplainable."
Garrioch alleges the abuse began in the spring of 2016 after one of her clients made sexually suggestive comments to her. According to her statement of claim, she reported the remarks to Nasserdeen and he reacted by repeatedly telling her she had invited the comments upon herself.
Garrioch's statement of claim alleges that Nasserdeen spoke often to Garrioch of his sexual exploits with Coventry Homes staff and made degrading comments about female employees.
It further alleges that Nasserdeen sent Garrioch a pornographic video and an image of his penis, pressured her to visit a sex shop during her work day, encouraged her to cheat on her husband and coerced her into sharing nude images of herself.
In the summer of 2018, over a work meeting at a café in west Edmonton, Nasserdeen threatened to terminate Garrioch if she refused to have sex with him, she alleges.
"Nasserdeen then threatened her with spreading sexual rumours about her," her statement of claim says. "As a result of these clear threats … she felt compelled to comply with Nasserdeen's demands."
According to her statement of claim, Nasserdeen threatened Garrioch so she would delete evidence of the abuse and keep quiet.
In September 2022, Garrioch — then on medical leave — reported the abuse to a member of the executive management team at Coventry Homes, she said in her statement of claim.
Around Oct. 14, 2022, Garrioch again reported Nasserdeen, this time to an office manager, she alleges. She said she told the manager she was afraid to return to the office with Nasserdeen there, but alleges nothing was done.
"Instead of taking some responsibility for their actions, and the role that they play in women feeling safe at their company, they decide to ignore it," she said in an interview.
"That is just absolutely unacceptable. And that's why I think we're all here."
Garrioch alleges that due to the company's failure to investigate, she was constructively terminated in November 2022. Her claim details how the abuse left her with emotional and psychological trauma, including anxiety and depression.
The other three women who have filed claims against Coventry Homes are Tessa Thomson, Anne Guenther and Kaitlyn Ross.
Thomson, 30, worked as a drafter for 18 months before she was placed on unpaid suspension in December 2022. She alleges she was constructively dismissed after being ridiculed and reprimanded for raising concerns about Nasserdeen's conduct.
She said she wanted transparency from the company.
"I had a right to know who I was working for," Thomson said. "I had a right to decide for myself whether I wanted to continue contributing to the success of a company that condones behaviour like this."
Guenther, 37, worked as an estimator for more than a decade. She alleges she was terminated without cause in October 2022, 19 days after telling management she was scared of Nasserdeen.
Ross, 32, was an area sales manager for nearly three years. She alleges she was fired after raising concerns about Nasserdeen's return to the office and criticizing the company's "unwavering support" for him.
She alleges the company breached its own policies and endangered employees.
"The responsible thing to do would be to launch an investigation and they never did," Ross said in an interview.
"Any woman who spoke out about how they felt with Robin Nasserdeen … they pushed them out. And the others were terminated, like myself."
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.