Summer student employee targets city of Mississauga in $2.5M lawsuit
City of Mississauga says 'immediate' action was taken after incident involving 19 year-old student, co-worker
"We're expecting you back on Monday."
According to her lawyer, that's what a 19 year-old university student was told after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a co-worker on the job.
The student has launched a $2.5 million negligence lawsuit against the city of Mississauga and a contract employee in a case lawyer Michael Smitiuch calls "every parent's worst nightmare," as it raises questions about the safety of students at their summer jobs.
"This is a young lady, and to expect her to come back so quickly, or at all, I think defies common sense," Smitiuch said in an interview with CBC Toronto.
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday, alleges that the city of Mississauga "failed to protect" the student employee prior to the alleged assault and then showed "callous disregard and complete lack of care" after it was reported.
The woman is only identified as M.G. in the lawsuit. She declined to be interviewed.
The accused is a 23 year-old man who worked as a contract employee with Mississauga's Parks and Forestry Department. He has been criminally charged with sexual assault and is scheduled to appear in court on Friday. According to Smitiuch, the man was fired after the alleged assault was reported.
Mississauga's solicitor, Mary Ellen Bench, confirmed to CBC Toronto that an "incident" did take place and that the city took "immediate and direct action." However, she said she could not respond to specific questions since the city had not yet been served with the lawsuit.
"The City takes all such allegations seriously and cares deeply for the wellbeing, health and safety of our employees," Bench said in a statement.
"The City has a robust respectful workplace culture supported by strong policies including Respectful Workplace and Workplace Violence. All City of Mississauga employees, including summer students, are trained on these policies. We are confident in our actions to date and the City will vigorously defend our position." the statement said.
The alleged assault
According to a statement of claim filed in court, the alleged assault occurred on the afternoon of July 12 at Whiteoaks Park in Mississauga.
None of these allegations has been proven in court.
M.G., who's entering her second year of university, was working alone in the park and needed the assistance of the accused.
According to the lawsuit, while the pair were in the man's truck he allegedly sexually assaulted her.
According to the document, M.G. tried to move away from the man when he attempted to kiss her. He then allegedly held her by her hair and "attempted to rape M.G." through "forceful submission, forcible removal of her shorts and underwear and forcibly touching his genitals to her body, all against her will."
The lawsuit alleges that the city of Mississauga "allowed" the alleged assault to occur by letting M.G. work alone in an isolated area.
"In particular when you have vulnerable summer students coming in, [the employer's] duty under the law is to ensure they have a safe work environment. It was anything but safe in this circumstance," Smitiuch said.
The lawyer says some workplaces, such as golf courses, use a "buddy rule" to make sure vulnerable employees do not work alone in isolated areas.
It isn't clear if the city of Mississauga has such a rule.
Smitiuch is also seeking to learn if there was a proper screening process in place for contract employees like the accused.
After the incident
Smitiuch says M.G. reported the alleged assault to her supervisor directly after it happened and to Peel Regional Police that same day.
The city launched an investigation and dismissed the accused, Smitiuch says.
But when it came to how M.G. was treated by her employer, Smitiuch says "there just doesn't seem to have been an appreciation of how serious this was."
The alleged assault occurred on Wednesday, July 12 and Smitiuch says after taking the following two days off M.G. was expected back at work on Monday, July 17.
"She felt pressure to go back. And when did she did try to go back she felt very traumatized, emotional," he said.
M.G. was offered modified duties at work and could access one counselling session per month, according to her lawyer.
But Smitiuch says she was unable to cope and did not return to the job.