Former employee sues MP Yasmin Ratansi, claims she fired him for attending abortion
'At the heart of this is all power and using it to intimidate and hurt people' — former staffer Alim Lila
A former employee of Yasmin Ratansi is suing the member of Parliament for $2 million, claiming Ratansi verbally abused him on multiple occasions, made a derogatory remark about his girlfriend and fired him for attending an abortion in 2017.
The lawsuit is only the latest claim of abusive workplace behaviour directed at Ratansi. CBC News reported late last year that former employees claimed Ratansi created a verbally abusive workplace environment and made offensive remarks to staff members. Ratansi has denied the allegations.
Ratansi left the Liberal caucus last fall after CBC News reported that she had been employing her sister in her constituency office for years, violating parliamentary rules. Ratansi claimed it was an error in judgment. The ethics commissioner launched an inquiry, which is still underway.
Now, Ratansi's former constituency assistant Alim Lila is alleging that the Independent MP for the Toronto-area riding of Don Valley East abused her authority in the workplace.
"At the heart of this is all power and using it to intimidate and hurt people," Lila told CBC News. "That's why I'm speaking out."
Lila is seeking $2 million for general and special damages, according to the statement of claim filed on April 9.
He also claims Ratansi attempted to intimidate him by demanding to know late last year whether he'd spoken to the media about her relationship with staff.
Hours before responding to CBC News' request for a comment, Ratansi posted on Facebook that she was "shocked by the statement of claim," calling its contents "wild and unsupportable allegations."
She wrote that she is "deeply disturbed" by what CBC News shared with her and said she would defend herself vigorously in court.
"Mr. Lila is making false claims regarding his time working in my constituency office in my riding," she wrote.
Verbal abuse claims
Lila started working at Ratansi's office as a summer intern in 2016 and was later hired as a full-time constituency assistant in 2017, according to the lawsuit.
The statement of claim alleges Lila asked for time off work on Aug. 17, 2017 to accompany his girlfriend at the time to a medical appointment for an abortion.
The lawsuit alleges Ratansi, who is Ismaili Muslim, verbally abused Lila, calling him "stupid" and an "idiot" for getting a non-Ismaili Muslim woman pregnant. The lawsuit also claims Ratansi made an insulting and derogatory remark about Lila's then-girlfriend related to her Filipino heritage.
The statement of claim alleges Ratansi suggested Filipina women want nothing more than to get pregnant "so the child's father can take care of her" and questioned Lila about his past relationships and sexual history.
Lila claims Ratansi gave him an ultimatum.
"She said that I have two options," Lila told CBC News. "I can either come to work the day of the appointment and I keep my job, or I can attend the appointment and my time in the office is done."
Lila said he chose to attend the appointment. That, he said, was the end of his career in politics — he gathered his belongings, slipped his key under the office door and never went back.
"I wanted to be present and supportive of my partner as we went through one of the toughest decisions we ever made," he said. "I've lived with the scars and the pain of my termination for years."
WATCH / Former staffer to MP Yasmin Ratansi:
In a statement issued to CBC News, Ratansi said she had not been served with the statement of claim. CBC News did provide her with a copy, but Ratansi said it would be "inappropriate to respond via the media" since the matter is before the courts.
"I categorically disagree with the characterization of the events as you have portrayed it," said Ratansi in a statement. "The allegations should not be relied upon, especially when the allegations relate to a statute barred period of time."
'We all did things in an emotive way,' says Ratansi on recording
CBC News has listened to a recording of a Nov. 11, 2020 phone call between Lila and Ratansi, during which Lila confronts Ratansi about the abortion and his termination.
"We all did things in an emotive way because you were necessary for us. You were really a good fit," Ratansi says during the call.
Ratansi is also heard saying on the recording that she was considering running as an Independent in the next federal election and could no longer support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"I can't afford defending him as he continues the ethical mistakes," Ratansi says in the recording.
Claims of religious friction
Lila's father and Ratansi are both Ismaili Muslims, according to the statement of claim. Lila said Ratansi was unhappy with the fact that Lila wasn't practising the religion and compelled him to attend mosque with her after work.
"I didn't want to do it, but she would force me to attend with her," Lila told CBC. "It's her leveraging her power and authority into forcing me to do things I didn't want to do."
Lila claimed Ratansi insulted his mother's Guyanese heritage by telling him the Guyanese are "lazy and an under-educated community." He claimed Ratansi also openly questioned how he succeeded at school when he was the child of a bank manager and a car salesman.
The lawsuit also claims Ratansi yelled at him for trivial things such as leaving paper in the printer, routinely called his speeches and photos "shit" and erupted in hours-long "fits of rage" that would include personal attacks against him and other staff members.
'I felt intimidated and I felt scared'
The claims have not been proven in court and Ratansi has not yet filed a statement of defence.
The lawsuit is only the latest blow for Ratansi. Last month, members of Parliament concluded that Ratansi had breached parliamentary rules by employing her sister and ordered her to pay back more than $9,000 in severance and termination pay she gave her sister before CBC's story was published.
Lila claims that, after CBC News subsequently aired a story quoting four former employees accusing Ratansi of mistreating them and making offensive comments, Ratansi started intimidating him.
On Nov. 11, 2020, he claimed, Ratansi called him and "interrogated" him to find out if he contributed to CBC News' reporting. Lila claims that Ratansi then said she was going to give his name to her legal team for questioning.
CBC News has listened to a recording of the call. Ratansi is heard on the recording repeatedly asking Lila if he spoke to the media.
"In that moment, I felt intimidated and I felt scared," Lila told CBC. "That caused all sorts of anxiety, and I was deeply concerned that I was going to be harassed by her lawyers. I spent weeks and months anticipating a phone call from them."
The Liberal riding association president gets involved
That same day, Lila said, he received a call from Howard Shuster, president of the Don Valley East Federal Liberal Riding Association, asking him if he would write a letter in support of Ratansi.
According to a recording of the call provided to CBC News, Shuster said more than once that he felt uncomfortable making the call because Ratansi is no longer tied to the party.
Shuster told CBC News he doesn't regret making that call and does not remember feeling pressured by Ratansi to make it. He said he's known Ratansi for 35 years as a friend and also knows Lila, and just wanted to help with the situation. He also said Lila had written a resignation letter that expressed support for Ratansi in the past.
Ratansi posted excerpts from that resignation letter on Facebook this morning. In it, Lila described Ratansi as a mentor.
"You have always pushed me to do better and to be a better person," reads the letter. "You have given me more than enough support and accommodation and I am truly appreciative of everything."
Lila said he sent that letter about 10 days prior to Ratansi's comments about the abortion. He said he was struggling at the time with the demands of his job and his master's degree, and with the aftermath of a fire at his house.
- ExclusiveMP who left Liberal caucus made offensive remarks and mistreated staff, former employees allege
He said Ratansi didn't want to accept the resignation and offered to make changes at the office to make things easier for him, so he decided to continue working.
At the time, he said, he was 23 years old, needed another job and needed Ratansi as a reference. He argues it's "cruel" to use the letter now to "try to diminish my claims and twist reality."
Lila's lawyer issued a notice to the House of Commons detailing his claims on Feb. 24. The letter asked Ratansi to compensate Lila for "the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress" she caused, according to the document.
"To date, Ms. Ratansi, through her counsel, has refused to engage in any discussions aimed at resolving Mr. Lila's concerns," said Lila's lawyer Tahir Khorasanee.
The House of Commons said confidentiality is a key part of its workplace harassment policy and it cannot comment on specific cases.
Lila's lawyer said he has been trying to serve Ratansi with the statement of claim since April 6, but has been unable to do so.