Ex-CBC exec sues broadcaster for wrongful dismissal over Ghomeshi affair
Todd Spencer, former head of human resources, was fired in 2015
A former senior CBC manager who was fired in connection with the Jian Ghomeshi affair has launched a lawsuit against the broadcaster, claiming he was wrongfully dismissed and made a "political scapegoat" to stem the public relations fallout from the scandal.
Todd Spencer, who was the executive director of human resources and industrial relations for CBC English, claims in the lawsuit that the CBC did not have just cause to end his employment and that his termination has caused him "public shame and mental distress." He is asking for more than $640,000 in damages.
- Ghomeshi apologizes for 'sexually inappropriate' behaviour
- CBC inquiry concludes management mishandled Ghomeshi
"The CBC's conduct pre-termination, at termination and post-termination were harsh, vindictive, reprehensible and malicious or highhanded," says the statement of claim that was filed in Ontario Superior Court on March 24.
That conduct, the lawsuit alleges, includes "scapegoating and sacrificing Spencer … in order to address the fallout and damage to the CBC's reputation from the Ghomeshi affair."
The statement of claim says that in late June 2014, Spencer became involved in dealing with allegations involving the sexual preferences of Ghomeshi, who was the host of CBC Radio's arts and culture show Q at the time, and his alleged treatment of women, including co-workers.
Spencer was trying to determine the veracity of the allegations and what should be done about them. He had also commenced an informal investigation into the matter, the claim says.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
Ghomeshi fired in 2014
Ghomeshi was fired on Oct. 26, 2014, after executives saw what they described as graphic video evidence that he had physically injured a woman.
In November 2014, CBC also hired Toronto employment lawyer Janice Rubin to lead a probe into the scandal. That same month, CBC aired an investigation by the fifth estate, which looked into what CBC managers knew and how they responded to the Ghomeshi scandal.
In January 2015, Spencer and radio executive Chris Boyce were put on leaves of absence. Months later, Rubin released her report, which found that CBC had failed to provide its staff a workplace "free from disrespectful and abusive behaviour."
It found that Ghomeshi's behaviour was "considered to create an intimidating, humiliating, hostile or offensive work environment" and that CBC management condoned that behaviour.
Days after the report was released, Boyce and Spencer were fired.
Spencer's statement of claim alleges the CBC never provided particulars to Spencer for his cause of termination and that his firing was an attempt by top management to "save itself in the wake of the Ghomeshi affair and the findings of the Rubin report."
CBC files statement of defence
"We believe that the statement of claim is without merit and CBC stands by its decision to terminate Mr. Spencer's employment," said Chuck Thompson, a spokesman for CBC. "We have filed a statement of defence and will defend our position accordingly."
In its statement of defence filed this month, the CBC says it expected Spencer to "act expeditiously and in a deliberate, thoughtful manner" in reviewing the allegations against Ghomeshi and relay any information in a "timely and truthful manner."
The statement of defence alleges Spencer determined that Ghomeshi had not been involved in any inappropriate conduct at the CBC and that the broadcaster had "reasonably relied on this determination."
But after conducting its own review, separate from Rubin's investigation, CBC found that Spencer had "misrepresented his own actions" regarding his review and "mischaracterized and overstated" the scope of his investigation, the statement of defence says.
Specifically, the statement alleges, Spencer referenced his meetings with two CBC employees that took place only after he concluded there was no evidence against Ghomeshi.
He also "deliberately misled" the CBC as to the nature and extent of concerns raised by two CBC employees and did not conduct any followup, the CBC's statement says.
It also alleges that Spencer claimed to have reviewed Ghomeshi's personnel file and then retracted that statement.
"Spencer's conduct was fundamentally incompatible with continued employment," according to the statement of defence.
Earlier this month, Ghomeshi stood before an open court and apologized for his "sexually inappropriate" behaviour against former CBC employee Kathryn Borel. Borel,a former associate producer on Q, had accused him of grinding his pelvis into her rear at work in 2008.
The Crown dropped the sexual assault charge after Ghomeshi signed a peace bond and issued the apology. But following the court proceedings, Borel slammed her former employer, accusing the CBC of ignoring her complaints.
In March, Ghomeshi was acquitted by an Ontario court judge on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking, assaults alleged to have taken place against three women from 2002 to 2003.
- A previous version of the story mistakenly said the statement of claim alleged Todd Spencer's probe was shoddy. In fact, it was the statement of defence that made that allegation.May 27, 2016 4:42 PM ET