HSR becoming friendlier workplace for women, union says

Life is getting easier for women working for the city’s transit agency since a damning report this fall called it a toxic male-dominated workplace.

A report into the harassment of a female HSR worker called it a toxic environment

Life is less tense for female HSR employees after a September decision cited it as a male-dominated culture, says a union rep. The ongoing harassment of a female employee prompted the adjudicator's decision, which said the city failed to protect her.

Life is getting easier for women working for the city’s transit agency since a damning report this fall called it a toxic male-dominated workplace.

In September, an adjudicator found in favour of AB, a long-time female HSR employee who was harassed for years by a male supervisor.

In the report, the adjudicator cited a toxic culture that allowed AB’s continued harassment, which included lewd emails, unwanted touching and derogatory insults such as “Irish skank.”

The city has implemented most of the adjudicator’s recommendations, said Eric Tuck, vice-president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 107. And life is getting easier for AB and her female co-workers.

“I have to say that things have changed,” Tuck said.

The city has a new human rights specialist who is effective and aggressive in her job, Tuck said.

City manager Chris Murray has also met with AB and the union and apologized, reassuring her that the culture would change, Tuck said.

Other measures, recommended by the adjudicator, include posting notices of employees’ right to a discrimination-free workplace and evaluating the anti-discrimination program It Starts With You. HSR is also training its staff on anti-discrimination, Tuck said.

HSR has hired more trainers and held more than 1,200 training sessions with the agency’s 600-member workforce, director Don Hull said in September.

It’s not perfect. It took about two weeks for AB to settle back into her job, Tuck said. And many of HSR’s senior staff in place during AB’s harassment are still in their old positions, which makes female employees “reluctant to come forward,” he said.

Tuck remains perplexed about positive references given to Bill Richardson, the supervisor cited as perpetrator in the AB decision. Richardson was dismissed without cause by HSR and applied for a job with Guelph Transit. Two HSR managers gave him positive references. Richardson got the job, but the transit agency dismissed him shortly afterward.

"How do you get disciplined for an inappropriate joke by the same people who gave (Richardson) a reference?" Tuck said.

Murray said in September that he is investigating the reference matter. Calls to Murray Tuesday were directed to city spokesperson Mike Kirkopoulos, who said in an email that Murray is still working on the report. He expects to present it to council in January.

Adjudicator Kelly Waddingham issued a 70-page report in favour of AB, a 23-year employee of HSR. Even after it knew of the harassment, the city left AB under Richardson’s charge, Waddingham wrote.

In doing so, it “failed to take even the most basic substantive measures to protect her.”

AB received a $25,000 settlement — $5,000 for lost wages and $20,000 in damages.

With his dismissal, Richardson received a severance of around $200,000, Waddingham’s report said. Murray wouldn’t give an exact number, but said the actual settlement was “substantially less than that.”