Manager says city takes discrimination seriously; women's advocate calls that a lie

At around 5 p.m. today, City of London manager Martin Hayward issued a statement titled 'City of London - Safe and Supportive Workplace.' In it, he said the city takes discrimination and harassment seriously. London Abused Women's Centre executive director disputes the claim.

Megan Walker says she's received 29 phone calls in a week from city employees facing harassment or reprisal

(Chris Ensing/CBC)

The City of London says it's committed to creating a harassment-free workplace, but the executive director of the London Abused Women's Centre (LAWC) says this is a lie.

Megan Walker, LAWC executive director, says that discrimination and harassment were on the table at yesterday's closed-door council meeting, but that she isn't satisfied the city is doing enough to resolve these issues.

Martin Hayward: We have strong policies in place

At around 5 p.m. Monday, city manager Martin Hayward issued a statement saying that the city has had policies in place since the early 2000's to support a discrimination and harassment-free workplace. 

He added that these policies are reviewed on an ongoing basis.

"We continue to encourage anyone who has either experienced or witnessed behaviour that is not aligned with our commitment to a safe workplace to come forward," he said.

"We take any concerns about this very seriously and will continue to take actions to ensure a safe workplace. An important part of this is creating an environment where employees can bring their concerns forward."

"Our ongoing focus is on providing a workplace that is free of harassment and discrimination for all of our employees."

Megan Walker: No, you don't

Shortly after Hayward's statement was sent out, London Abused Women's Centre executive director Megan Walker e-mailed a reply to Hayward, along with Mayor Matt Brown, his chief of staff and chief human resources officer. 

In it, Walker called the letter a lie and said that city employees do not feel safe speaking out.

"The supporters of your harassed employees are being retaliated against," she said.

"The policies you have in place are biased against victims in favour of abusers. The policies you have are dated and no longer relevant. The city does not take its policies seriously."

"The same form letters sent out time and time again followed by no action shows you care very little about harassment. The city took this issue on 20 years ago and today we are worse off than we were then."

Spike in calls from city employees, Walker says

In a telephone conversation, Walker told CBC News that Hayward's email—as well as today's in-camera council meeting—were borne out of conversations she had last week with Mayor Matt Brown about a spike in harassment complaints from city employees.

Walker said that she received 29 phone calls last week from city employees complaining about workplace harassment and reprisals for those that speak up.

Walker said she met with the mayor last Friday to discuss these allegations. In that meeting, Walker said she asked Brown to let her know by 5 p.m. Monday how far he had gotten in developing an action plan to address these claims.

She said Brown agreed and said that they would hold a special council meeting to address the issue.

As of Monday evening, Walker said she hadn't heard anything from the mayor. Walker said she was forwarded the city's media statement standing by their harassment policies, and received a separate communication from a city manager saying that anyone with harassment complaints can go through the city's third-party investigation process. 

Walker said this means her complaints are being ignored.

"They may think their harassment policy is great, but there's no harassment policy in the world that's going to stop people from harassing others in a workplace if those who are doing the harassing are not held to account for their behaviour," she said.

CBC News has reached out to the City of London and the mayor's office.

Martin Hayward was not available for comment Monday evening. Mayor Matt Brown's office has not yet responded to requests for comment.