The Needle Vinyl Tavern closes indefinitely after former employee alleges sexual harassment

A popular downtown Edmonton bar and live music venue has shut down indefinitely after a former employee alleged she was groped by one of its owners.

'He was blackout drunk and groped me several times after I repeatedly said no,' Brittany Lyne Rudyck alleges

The Needle Vinyl Tavern has been closed since November 2017. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC)

A popular downtown Edmonton bar and live music venue has shut down indefinitely after a former employee alleged she was groped by one of its owners.

In a Facebook post on Monday that has since been shared more than 500 times, Brittany Lyne Rudyck said a co-owner of The Needle Vinyl Tavern allegedly sexually harassed her in March.

"He was blackout drunk and groped me several times after I repeatedly said no," Rudyck said. "It came to the point where I had to ask security to kick him out. He was disrespectful to a number of staff that night, and sadly that was not the first time he'd acted inappropriately at the venue."

Rudyck said she told her manager and several staff members about what happened and received some support, but no apology. 

Shortly before the bar's social media pages were deleted Tuesday evening, a post on The Needle's Facebook page said: "The Needle will be closed until further notice. Due to threats made to multiple staff, we do not feel we can safely operate the venue at the present time."

Last week, Rudyck was among four female staff members who sent management an email raising concerns about a new hire that several women had concerns about.

The email led to a meeting with three owners of the venue, including the man who allegedly harassed Rudyck. 

"They decided to dismiss us and our previous experience with this person, which has included mental and emotional abuse as well as sexual harassment. It was at that point that I stood up, proclaimed 'I quit,' and walked out," Rudyck said in her post.

She said the last week has been "severely distressing" for her and for some other staff members at the Jasper Avenue bar.

"I loved that job, but I also knew it wasn't going to last forever. Standing up for myself and these other women is the right thing."

'Certainly things we could have done better'

Needle co-owner Rob Campbell said he has apologized to Rudyck for the incidents that led to her resignation.

When Rudyck initially alerted management about the alleged groping in March, the bar "took it very seriously," he said. The co-owner, who Campbell would not name, emailed Rudyck to apologize, Campbell said. 

He did not face any formal professional repercussions at the time of the incident in March, but Campbell said they have since cut ties with the co-owner and he is no longer involved in the management of the bar.

Patrons line up outside the Needle Vinyl Tavern in Edmonton in August. A former employee of the venue says she experienced sexual harassment by an owner. (Twitter/Serei Jeppesen)

"I don't know the specifics about what he did or didn't do. And frankly we haven't spent a lot of time trying to look at that," Campbell said. 

"The employee continued to work in our venue and we operated on the assumption that everything was OK, which was an incorrect assumption in hindsight."

Campbell said he had heard concerns from some current staff who had previously worked with the man they hired. He was not scheduled to start work until December, and management was investigating the employees' concerns, Campbell said. The new hire will no longer be employed. 

"We apologize that this wasn't handled to Brittany's satisfaction," Campbell said. "I think it's fair there's certainly things we could have done better and absolutely, from a followup perspective and a communication perspective, taken a different approach.

We apologize that this wasn't handled to Brittany's satisfaction.- Rob Campbell, co-owner, The Needle Vinyl Tavern

Campbell said the tavern is reviewing its human resource systems to ensure staff can report workplace issues in a "safe and respectful environment," and will use services from the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton and the YWCA going forward.

He said the bar has no tolerance for sexual harassment.

"We want to look on this as an opportunity to work with experts in the area to become a leader in providing an environment where this doesn't happen in the future," he said.

Bands pull out of venue

Several musicians and groups, including Brunch Club, The Red Cannons, Cups N Cakes, Sudden Love, Current Swell, and the Taggart and Torrens podcast, have cancelled performances at the venue in the wake of the allegations.

Brunch Club singer Ellen Reade told CBC News the band initially planned to go forward with its upcoming show at the venue, with all proceeds going to the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton.

The band is now considering moving to another venue because so many other bands have dropped out of performing at The Needle Vinyl Tavern.

"Whether or not we move it, we're still going to donate all money to the sexual assault centre," Reade said.

Reade said sexual harassment is common in the local music industry. She said she has heard of promoters using their power to take advantage of young women in the industry.

She said she's skeptical of the apology offered by the tavern.

"Until I see more action being taken, I don't think an apology means much."

Campbell said he's disappointed some bands are choosing not to play at the venue, or switching their shows to other venues.

"At the same time, I respect and understand where they're coming from," he said. "Issues like this are very concerning to all in society, including ourselves.

"Our hope is that we can rebuild the reputation of The Needle so that bands aren't making that decision in the future."