Politics

NDP MP Sylvain Chicoine accused of sexism in lawsuit

NDP deputy veterans affairs critic Sylvain Chicoine demonstrated a sexist and misogynist attitude toward former staffer Fabiola Ferro, failed to deal with harassment by another staffer, and fired her without cause, Ferro alleges in a lawsuit filed Friday in Ontario Superior Court.

Fabiola Ferro says Sylvain Chicoine refused to deal with another staffer's harassment of her

New Democrat MP Sylvain Chicoine is the subject of a civil suit alleging he didn't deal with harassment problems in his office. The suit was filed by a former staffer. The allegations have not been tested in court. (Facebook)

NDP deputy veterans affairs critic Sylvain Chicoine demonstrated a sexist and misogynist attitude toward former staffer Fabiola Ferro, failed to deal with harassment by another staffer, and fired her without cause, Ferro alleges in a lawsuit filed Friday in Ontario Superior Court.

The suit claims damages of $194,000 and alleges Chicoine reprimanded Ferro when she complained about the alleged harassing behaviour, tried to fire her when she took the issue to the union, and then denied her references.

The lawsuit claims Chicoine contributed to a poisoned, toxic and humiliating work environment, and alleges he acted like a tyrant.

Ferro says another Chicoine staffer, David Cimon, started harassing her, but Chicoine didn't deal with the harassment and showed favouritism toward Cimon, finally firing Ferro last month.

Ferro, 34, started working for Chicoine as a parliamentary assistant in September 2011, and Cimon started harassing her a few months later, the lawsuit alleges. 

Ferro says Cimon threatened her, unfairly criticized her work and gave her additional work without the authority to do so. She alleges Cimon increasingly isolated her and that he did all of this because she is a woman.

"We are alleging a number of things in our claim, but certainly the fact that we believe she was treated differentially on the basis of her sex, and that that is a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code, is a large part of her claim," Ferro’s lawyer, Andrew Lister, told CBC News.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

In a statement, Chicoine said he was Ferro's employer and received a harassment complaint "by another employee."

"I took these allegations seriously because I believe that harassment has no place in a healthy work environment," he said in the statement.

"According to provisions of the collective agreement, Mrs. Ferro's allegations were immediately subject to a formal investigation, which found them to be baseless. I am confident that the courts will reach the same conclusion."

Sexist and misogynist

Ferro says in the lawsuit that Chicoine demonstrated a sexist and misogynist attitude toward her, favouring Cimon because he's a man. She alleges Cimon was allowed to arrive late and take long holidays while she was questioned over every absence and late arrival.

Ferro further alleges that Chicoine used insulting language with her.

Ferro alleges Chicoine didn't address her repeated complaints and says she finally filed a grievance with the NDP union in April 2013. Cimon filed a counter-grievance, alleging Ferro harassed him and falsely accused him.

The lawsuit alleges Chicoine fired Ferro, but not Cimon, that month. 

A union committee, which included a spokesman for Chicoine, looked into the matter and put Ferro on leave until it could make its decision.

The committee wrote a report in May 2014 that rejected both complaints, Ferro alleges in the lawsuit.

Fired last month

Chicoine sent her a letter in September calling her to a meeting to discuss her return to work, she says in the lawsuit. She alleges he suggested in the letter that he'd consider any refusal to be a resignation.

Ferro met in early October with the NDP's director of operations, who offered her a data entry job with a 60-day trial period on the condition she drop the harassment complaint and renounce her right to sue Chicoine and the party, she alleges.

Ferro alleges Chicoine fired her on Oct. 21 through a letter from his lawyer to hers. Ferro's lawsuit says Chicoine alleged she'd abandoned her post, a claim she denies in the lawsuit.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the party's union has already dealt with the complaint, which he qualified as cross-allegations between two employees.

"Other recourses are being tried right now. I'll let the courts determine whether or not anything further is going to actually happen,​ but frankly as a lawyer I will tell you I have my doubts​," Mulcair said of the lawsuit.

"We’ll let a judge determine whether or not the proper authority exists for the case to move forward through the civil litigation system," Lister said.
 

With files from Margo McDiarmid

now