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Saskatoon woman claims culture of sexual harassment at Waste Management

Saskatoon’s Nicole Ferguson says she was pushed out of her workplace after reporting instances of alleged sexual harassment and discrimination.

Nicole Ferguson says she had to share locker room, bathroom with male colleagues

Nicole Ferguson says she faced lewd comments from the time she started working for Waste Management in 2012. (Victoria Dinh/CBC News)

A Saskatoon woman says she was pushed out of her workplace after reporting instances of alleged sexual harassment and discrimination.

For nearly a decade, Nicole Ferguson was employed as a commercial driver in Saskatoon with Waste Management of Canada Corp. She says because she drove a front-load truck, it was common for her to be the sole woman in her shop.

I wanted to be tough.- Nicole Ferguson

"From the first day, I struggled," Ferguson said, adding that the red flags began to show during the interview process when she was told she would have to share a locker room and bathroom with her male colleagues.

"I let it all be because I wanted that job," she said. "That was my dream job."

For the majority of her time with Waste Management, Ferguson drove a front-load truck. (Supplied by Nicole Ferguson)

After she was hired, she says, lewd comments from her male coworkers about "hooking up" with her became a regular occurrence. She says she would just laugh it off because she wanted to prove she was capable of working in the male-dominated industry.

It was a dream come true for Saskatoon's Nicole Ferguson when she was hired to be a commercial driver for Waste Management of Canada Corporation. For almost a decade, she handled a front load truck. And although she was the only woman in her shop... she loved the work. That is, until she started speaking out about the lewd comments and sexual advances she'd faced on the daily from her male colleagues. 10:10

CBC news reached out to Waste Management for a comment on the situation and received an emailed statement saying the company can't release any details due to the private nature of the information.

"My hours were like 13 to 14 every day — without a complaint — done my job. Customers would not complain about me," she said, adding that in 2015 she had been nominated for a driver of the year award.

Health concerns emerge

As the years went on, she says, the comments got worse, and in 2017 violent remarks and unwanted sexual advances from a particular male coworker got too extreme.

"Waste Management has the texts and he admitted guilt," she said. 

Ferguson says she suffered a stress-induced heart attack while on the job and spent months in recovery. (Supplied by Nicole Ferguson)

She said she started carrying bear spray to work for protection, and the stress of interacting with him on a daily basis began to affect her health and her home life. 

At that point, Ferguson says, she decided to take her concerns to her boss, who advised her to send a written statement to the company's human resources department.

On July 14, 2017, she did just that — and on the following Monday, Ferguson suffered from what her doctor said was a stress-induced heart attack while on the job.

"I was pronounced dead twice," she said.

First responders were able to revive her, but she would be comatose for eight days.

"It took a few days until I pieced together what had just happened between the sexual harassment and the statement I made," she said. "I woke up in the hospital and I went, 'My life is a mess.'"

Back to work

After a few months of recovery, Ferguson says, she was ready to head back to work.

She had been approved by her cardiologist and family doctor in November to go back part-time.

"I get all this done and I hand [an approval note] to my boss and he says, 'I don't think I have anything for you.'"

Instead, she says, Waste Management placed her on disability leave.

After a month of waiting and an unwavering feeling of uncertainty, she took her claims of sexual harassment and discrimination to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

"They were willing to proceed," Ferguson said of her claim. "But I'm trying to be nice, and all I want in reality is I wanted my job back."

In January, she was offered full-time work with the company, but it wasn't her job as a front-load driver. She was assigned to a more physically demanding role of operating a roll-off truck.

"Roll-off is a completely different game. The size of me — I can't handle it," she said, noting her petite 110-pound frame. "I can't do it. I'm not strong enough."

When Ferguson returned to work after her heart attack, she was assigned to drive a roll-off truck, which requires greater physical strength. (Supplied by Nicole Ferguson)

Despite her apprehension she agreed to give it a try, and on Jan. 15 she arrived back at work for yet another surprise: She would be working alongside the man she had accused of sexual harassment.

"My first day back was the worst day of my life," she said. "Nobody prepared me for that."

When she inquired about the situation with her boss, she was told her male coworker had been suspended for three days following her complaint with human resources.

Parting ways

Ferguson has since parted ways with Waste Management.

"I wanted to be tough because I've been through so much with the heart attack," she said. "I've got no support from Waste Management and I was a good employee. I never stirred — I kept quiet about everything."

According to Ferguson, a court date is set for October to mediate her claim against Waste Management with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.