Montreal·Exclusive

Hotel Bonaventure employee says he was fired after alleging colleague sexually assaulted him

A man who alleges he was sexually assaulted while working as a dishwasher at Montreal's Hotel Bonaventure says he was discouraged from filing a complaint. The hotel defended the accused's behaviour, claiming "taps on the bum" were all part of the camaraderie of the kitchen.

The alleged victim says he was discouraged from complaining

Steve, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, says that since the alleged assault, he has had trouble eating and sleeping and is fighting for compensation and recognition as a victim. (CBC)

"You feel embarrassed. You feel ashamed."

Steve says he's still feeling that way, a year after he says he was sexually assaulted by a fellow employee while working in the kitchen at Montreal's Hotel Bonaventure.

Steve is not his real name. His identity is protected under a publication ban.

That colleague, Jimmy Valente, has since pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual assault in relation to the incident. The allegations against him have not been tested in court.

But Steve says he was discouraged from filing a complaint, and the hotel defended Valente's behaviour, claiming "taps on the bum" were all part of the camaraderie of the kitchen.

Steve alleges he was assaulted on three occasions during a shift he worked as a dishwasher in January 2019. He claims Valente grabbed his buttocks twice and the third time, grabbed his genitals.

"I was bent over to take dishes out and [Valente] reached his arm through my legs and grabbed my genitals," alleges Steve.

"Then he said, 'I love Italian meatballs.' I was shocked."

Steve says instead of supporting him, hotel management discouraged him from talking about it and filing a complaint.

He was subsequently fired, and he believes it was as a result of speaking out about the alleged assault.

Steve filed for compensation through Quebec's workplace health and safety board, the CNESST, and was awarded payment of $14 a day, to a maximum of around $4,000.

'He gives taps on the bum to everybody'

In its official response to the CNESST report on the incident, obtained by CBC, Hotel Bonaventure lawyers included a defence of Valente. 

"It has to be known that Mr. Valente is very respected by his colleagues. He gives taps on the bum to everybody, just like in a hockey changing room or a football team."

The hotel went on to include:

"It has never been a question that Valente sexually assaulted [Steve] or any other of his colleagues. To the contrary, since 1997, [Valente] has always had good work relations and collaboration."

In a letter included in the hotel's official response, Valente himself admits to giving taps on the bum but says it is not equivalent to sexual assault.

"Yes, I gave [Steve] a little tap on the bum as a sign of encouragement," he wrote.

"Those who know me well know that I love sports, and teammates encourage each other with these types of gestures.... Yes, it is not the first time that I have done such a thing, but no one's ever complained or told me they felt uncomfortable." 

The hotel did not address Steve's claims that Valente grabbed his genitals but says Steve was let go because of "insubordinate behaviour" and did not make it through his probation period.

The hotel also wrote:

"The way in which [Valente] encourages employees may not be right but we submit to you that everybody in his department adores and respects this individual."

The Hotel Bonaventure said it couldn't comment on the incident to CBC, since the matter is before the CNESST. CBC also contacted Valente, through his lawyer, however, she said he couldn't comment because the matter is before the courts.

System is against victims, Steve says

Steve says he's been dealing with the psychological repercussions of what he alleges happened to him for the past year.

"Psychologically, I don't feel myself. You know, my smile is not there. I don't have the energy. My appetite is gone," he said.

"I wake up in the middle of the night, you know. My sleeps are broken. I'm fighting something that's so big, but I feel isolated."

Steve estimates he's spent hundreds of hours filing paperwork, making phone calls and going to various appointments required by the CNESST just in order to be recognized as a victim.

"I feel like I'm the one being accused, not that I'm the one who is the victim," he said.

Since he was fired from the hotel, Steve has not found another job, and he says he was denied welfare because of the $14 a day he receives from his CNESST claim.

The CNESST said it could not comment on an ongoing file for reasons of confidentiality.

Steve has since filed for compensation through Quebec's Compensation for Victims of Crimes.

He says at least he was treated kindly when he went to Montreal police with his accusation. He is relieved his complaint led to a charge being laid.

"It's a good thing. It shows that there is some justice." 

Hotel Bonaventure defended some of Valente's behaviour in an official letter to the CNESST: 'He gives taps on the bum to everybody, just like in a hockey changing room or a football team.' (CBC)

 

About the Author

Sarah Leavitt

Journalist

Sarah Leavitt is a journalist with CBC Montreal.