Ontario's French TV channel places interim CEO on leave amid workplace harassment allegations

Ontario's French television channel has placed its interim president on administrative leave amid allegations of workplace harassment and intimidation, Radio-Canada has learned.

Éric Minoli, interim president of TFO, accused of creating toxic work environment

Éric Minoli, interim president of Groupe Média TFO, a public educational media company, has been placed on administrative leave amid allegations of workplace harassment. (Camille Gauthier/ Groupe Média TFO )

Ontario's French-language television channel has placed its interim president on administrative leave amid allegations of workplace harassment and intimidation, Radio-Canada has learned.

The board of directors of Groupe Média TFO announced on Wednesday that it has suspended Éric Minoli. The announcement comes after the board was told by Radio-Canada that it was about to publish a story alleging that Minoli had created a toxic work environment at TFO. The Franco-Ontarian broadcaster, a public educational media company, is provincially funded.

In an email sent to TFO employees on Wednesday, Jean Lépine, the chair of the board, declined to say why Minoli is now on leave. TFO's lawyers, however, had told Radio-Canada earlier on Wednesday that an independent third party investigation has been launched into Minoli's time at the broadcaster. 

Minoli has been TFO's interim president since 2019. He was previously vice-president of operations.

In a statement released Wednesday evening, the TFO board acknowledged it received a letter on March 9 about allegations against Minoli and began an investigation. It said it has taken more action after new allegations came to light.

"In the light of these, and in order to protect its employees, the integrity of the investigation process and the interests of the company, the board immediately imposed the administrative withdrawal of Mr. Minoli until the end of the investigation," the statement reads.

"In the meantime, Ms. Michelle Séguin will assume the duties of interim CEO."

Managers' letter denounces Minoli

Radio-Canada has obtained a copy of the March 9 letter sent to the board by a group of TFO managers denouncing Minoli's alleged actions.

The managers, who Radio-Canada decided not to name, say in the letter that they had to deal with daily behaviour from the interim president that they believe was inappropriate and unacceptable. They expressed concern about possible retaliation. The letter doesn't describe specific incidents.

Radio-Canada, however, has spoken to 26 employees and former employees, including many managers, and obtained dozens of emails and internal documents. The interviews and documents create a picture of a toxic work environment that reportedly has been in place at TFO for several years.

There are allegations of sexual and psychological harassment as well as conflict of interest.

Sources told Radio-Canada that Minoli intimidated lower level managers into hiring or firing certain people, and on many occasions, refused to wear a mask inside the offices during the pandemic.

He is also accused of bullying an employee into not filing a complaint against his partner, Bryan Pang, who also works at TFO, after Pang allegedly verbally abused that person.

Crew members shoot the TFO series Amélie et Compagnie in Sudbury in August 2017. A number of senior TFO executives have been the subject of employee complaints. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

According to the three people who signed the March 9 letter, the board was informed of the allegations previously. 

Lawyers for TFO say they cannot comment because the third party investigation is ongoing. Minoli, for his part, did not respond to Radio-Canada requests for an interview. 

The office of Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the Ontario government takes all allegations of workplace harassment seriously and it expects TFO to cooperate with the investigation fully and ensure a safe and positive work environment for all its employees. The office also said it is actively working to fill the role of president for TFO.

Multiple sources said they have been subjected to, or witnessed, intimidation, harassment or undue pressure by Minoli. 

Radio-Canada obtained recent audio recordings in which TFO managers, including directors, recalled being the victims of physical and psychological harassment by Minoli. Some expressed reservations about signing the letter about him out of fear of reprisals.

One manager, worried about his job prospects in the midst of the pandemic, said he had a family to support and was worried the letter might backfire.

Allegations of inappropriate gestures, unwanted contact

Some said they have been subjected to or witnessed inappropriate or sexual gestures and comments directed at male employees, including about their physical appearance. Others spoke of unwanted physical contact. Still others complained of derogatory comments, public humiliation or veiled threats.

A former employee alleged that Minoli asked to see a photo of their partner, said he was handsome and he asked which men he found attractive. The employee said they felt uncomfortable sitting alone in a room with Minoli.

According to almost every source interviewed by Radio-Canada, Minoli showed a lack of empathy in his interactions.

Often, during the pandemic, Minoli moved around the TFO building without his mask, even after repeated complaints, sources said. When confronted, Minoli reportedly replied that there was no point in wearing it as long as he kept his distance.

When the CEO does not respect public health measures, it is not very reassuring, one employee said.

Eric Minoli is not the only TFO executive to be the subject of serious allegations. On Nov. 23, an email appeared in the inbox of all TFO employees in which Minoli announced the departure of Manuelita Cherizard, senior director of human resources, after four years of service. He said the department was going to be restructured for operational reasons.

But according to sources, an independent investigator had found that Cherizard had psychologically harassed the majority of her employees in the HR department. Some said the experience was "nightmarish." Working conditions were inhumane, one said.

Cherizard required employees to work 18-hour days, sometimes phoning them until midnight. She allegedly insulted and demeaned employees. The alleged problem extended beyond the human resources team. Employees and ex-employees of several departments said they have been belittled and denigrated by Cherizard over the years.

Last year, when an employee asked for help with an inhumane workload, Cherizard reportedly replied that he was lucky to have a job during the pandemic. 

Cherizard, however, has secured a position as chief human resources officer at the Royal Ontario Museum. In an email to Radio-Canada, she denied the allegations and declined to comment.

Sources said a larger problem at TFO, beyond the behaviour of the interim CEO, is that the overall work environment is toxic. The list of complaints includes high turnover, overload or unfair distribution of work, job insecurity, burned out employees and low morale.

About 15 people say they have left or are considering doing so because of the work climate. 

Other serious complaints have been filed against past members of TFO's senior management.

Other former executives accused

Laurent Guérin left his post as vice president in 2018 following allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour. Former colleagues report unsolicited physical contact and sexual comments during meetings. Guérin declined to comment, saying these are only allegations.

As for Minoli's predecessor and mentor, Glenn O'Farrell, sources describe a president who had a hot and volatile character at times and who was allegedly forced to undergo coaching before his departure.

According to former subordinates, O'Farrell could raise his voice and make aggressive comments behind closed doors. It was not uncommon to see someone leave their office in tears.

Reached by email, Mr. O'Farrell declined to comment, saying the allegations against him are false.

Carole Nkoa, TFO's communications director, said she cannot comment on the allegations against Cherizard, Pang and Guérin, but pointed out that no complaint has ever been filed against O'Farrell.

The TFO Group cares about the health and well-being of its employees, Nkoa said, adding that TFO has turnover rates that correspond to industry standards.