Mayor Plante 'damaged my reputation,' claims Côte-des-Neiges—NDG borough employee in harassment claim

Annalisa Harris, the chief of staff for the mayor of the Côte-des-Neiges—NDG borough, claims she filed a harassment complaint with the city of Montreal. Then, she says, the city wrongfully concluded that she was the guilty party.

Annalisa Harris claims she referred the city to 13 potential witnesses, none were contacted, she says

Annalisa Harris took over as the Côte-des-Neiges—NDG borough mayor's chief of staff in June 2019 and says she's been the victim of constant workplace harassment since. (Simon Nakonechny)

For months, the Côte-des-Neiges—NDG borough mayor's chief of staff insisted the city of Montreal did not take her complaints of psychological harassment seriously, and now the province's workplace health and safety board is investigating her claims.

Annalisa Harris, the chief of staff for borough mayor Sue Montgomery, claims the way the city handled her harassment complaint left her "feeling humiliated, hurt, denigrated and diminished."

The investigation by the workplace health and safety board (CNESST) is the latest development in a months-long dispute involving Harris, Montgomery, the borough's director and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante. 

A report late last year by the city's comptroller general concluded that it was Harris who psychologically harassed two borough employees, including longtime borough director Stéphane Plante (who is not related to the city's mayor.)

In January, Projet Montréal booted Montgomery out of the party for refusing to follow the report's recommendation to fire her chief of staff.

The borough mayor said in March she was never shown the evidence against Harris and would not fire someone without due process.

In her complaint to the CNESST against the city of Montreal, Harris claims she reached out to Mayor Plante's office and the city's human resources department last fall, only to see the focus of the comptroller's ensuing investigation shift to her behaviour.

"I went and I complained that I was being harassed, that I was being bullied, that I was being intimidated and the city's answer was to ask me if I smiled," she said. "Do I smile at the borough director? Do I smile at the head of public works? Do I smile at the director of urban planning?"

Mayor Plante 'violated my confidentiality,' Harris says

Borough Mayor Sue Montgomery continued to defend her chief of staff and refused to fire her. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

The comptroller general's report blames Harris for contributing to a toxic workplace environment but she maintains it was the borough director who threatened her, insulted her and instructed other employees to ignore her.

Following her complaint to the city, Harris says Mayor Plante's public statements made things even more difficult for her at work.

"Valérie Plante violated my confidentiality and damaged my reputation," she said. "She was the first to confirm publicly, after leaks, that I was at the centre of the report."

Harris also alleges that although she referred the comptroller to 13 witnesses who could back up her harassment claims, the city did not reach out to any of them.

"I've had trouble sleeping, I've had trouble focusing on work, I've been diagnosed with depression," she said.

The borough director, Stéphane Plante, declined to comment.

In the last year, this dispute has led to heightened tensions within the borough — including during council meetings — and court proceedings between the city and borough mayor Montgomery related to her handling of the harassment claims against Harris.

City stands by findings

As soon as concerns were raised in the CDN-NDG borough, the city's comptroller general and human resources department were immediately ordered to shed light on the situation, said city spokesperson Youssef Amane in a statement.

A work-climate investigation led to two additional psychological-harassment surveys and it was determined that Harris psychologically harassed two employees, Amane said.

The comptroller general then put measures in place to prevent further harassment and it was requested that Harris no longer be in contact with borough officials, he said. Investigators also concluded Montgomery was willfully blind, he said.

"The mayor of Montreal wishes to reiterate her zero-tolerance policy with regard to all forms of harassment, and this is valid for the entire city of Montreal," Amane said.

Amane said Montgomery and Harris put their personal interests first rather than thinking about the well-being of the CDGN-NDG citizens who "continue to pay the price of a completely dysfunctional borough."

with files from Simon Nakonechny