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Former employee sues MPAC alleging workplace ‘violence’ following Trump-themed training video

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A former employee of the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation has launched a lawsuit alleging she was traumatized by a “violent” dressing down over an in-house staff video that satirized soon-to-be U.S. president Donald Trump, and then let go while on medical leave.

Darlene Rich is seeking $340,000 in damages for wrongful dismissal from MPAC, the not-for-profit corporation that assesses all properties in Ontario, and $150,000 in damages from Linda Hall, MPAC’s vice-president of communications and marketing.

In a joint statement of defence filed last week, MPAC and Hall deny nearly all of Rich’s allegations and allege she was fired for cause after failing to meet a deadline to provide medical documents. They also allege Rich’s “performance often fell below accepted standards.”

Rich’s allegations, contained in a statement of claim filed in Toronto last month, and those made by MPAC and Hall have not been proven in court.

Both MPAC and Hall declined to answer specific questions from the Star.

A spokesperson for MPAC, which is funded by municipalities and employs 1,700 people across the province, said it “takes matters relating to the health and safety of its employees very seriously and is committed to fostering a climate of collegiality and mutual respect.”

In July 2015, according to her statement of claim, Rich was hired as a media relations specialist in MPAC’s public affairs branch, which is headquartered in Pickering, after previously working as a senior communications adviser in four Ontario government ministries.

According to her statement of claim, Rich was hired to “help improve” MPAC’s public reputation, which had been “suffering for years.”

“By all accounts, (Rich) was on track to have a successful career at MPAC,” her suit states, until she was “violently verbally assaulted” by Hall, a supervisor, and ultimately fired.

During the summer of 2016, a director of valuation for the corporation created a video “satirizing” Trump in which members of the communications department were asked to participate, including Rich, according to her statement of claim.

Rich told the Star through lawyer Hendrik Nieuwland that she’s never seen the video, but said it was meant to be a “parody” training video, with the director dressed as Trump saying, “Let’s make assessing great again!”

“I assume it was an attempt to use humour to motivate people,” she said through her lawyer.

The video was briefly posted internally when, according to her statement of claim, it drew a complaint from a female employee who called it “discriminatory against women because Trump is a misogynist.”

Following the complaint, on Oct. 20, 2016, Rich’s suit alleges Hall called Rich into a closed-door meeting and, standing between her and the door, “furiously” screamed “What the f— were you thinking?!” over and over again.

“Shocked and very afraid” and feeling blocked from leaving, Rich’s suit says she was confused by Hall’s anger until she realized it was over the video, at which point she “repeatedly” explained she had nothing to do with creating it and had felt she had no choice but to comply with the request to participate.

Hall, the suit alleges, continued to “violently” berate Rich, referred to her co-workers as “total f—ups” and said they would “get their’s (sic) too.”

Rich’s suit says she felt “intimidated, frightened, humiliated and trapped” and left the meeting feeling ill with her heart “pounding.”

In their statement of defence, MPAC and Hall tell a different version of that day, saying Rich was free to leave a pre-arranged meeting in which she was an “active participant” in a 15-minute conversation.

In their statement, MPAC and Hall say the meeting was about a “potential reputational risk and public relations issue” and deny Hall swore or engaged in any coercion or violence.

The statement also alleges Rich later admitted to “yelling” at Hall in the meeting, “displayed a deep animosity toward” her and “used threatening language.”

In her suit, Rich says she is a survivor of historic verbal abuse related to family and has struggled with anxiety and depression, a fact she alleges Hall knew about from when the two briefly worked together at Metrolinx.

Hall’s “misconduct” in the meeting, she alleges, was “calculated” to cause harm.

In her suit, Rich says she is suffering from “severe depressive disorder” and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the meeting.

In the statement of defence, Hall states she was unaware of Rich’s mental health issues.

According to her suit, Rich filed a workplace complaint the day after the meeting, tried to work from home and did not return to work.

In January, following an external investigation, MPAC’s human resources director her Hall had violated the corporation’s “Workplace Discrimination, Harassment and Violence Prevention Policy” but would not say if she had been disciplined, according to the statement of claim.

Then, to Rich’s “surprise and dismay,” the HR director insisted Rich return to work, sit in an office next to Hall’s and continue to report to her, Rich’s suit alleges.

In their statement of defence, MPAC and Hall say the investigation findings “confirmed that there was no aspect of violence” in the interaction.

Rich next went on sick leave.

In her suit, Rich says her doctor completed a required medical form on April 17 but, through an “administrative oversight,” failed to submit it on time, leading MPAC to cut her short-term disability payments. The form was delivered about a month later and described a number of reasons, including panic disorder and panic attacks, why Rich could not function at work, her suit states.

Two days later, on May 17, MPAC fired Rich, “paid no severance” and cut her benefits, the suit states.

Rich is seeking damages for wrongful dismissal, discrimination based on disability, lost short-term disability payments, discrimination on the basis of disability, bad faith and conduct causing mental distress. From Hall, she seeks damages for “intentional infliction” of mental distress.

MPAC says it continued to fund short-term disability payments to Rich even after repeated attempts to get required documents and, after a warning to return to work, fired her for reasons “completely unconnected to any disability she may have had.”

Rich, her suit states, received no severance, had her benefits cut off and “has been unable to obtain reasonable alternative employment.”

Nieuwland, Rich’s lawyer, told the Star by email that employees with “mental illness continue to struggle for understanding and acceptance in the workplace,” and he hopes Rich’s lawsuit “reminds all employers of their obligations in dealing with persons under a disability.”

Jim Rankin is a reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @Jleerankin



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Toronto officer pleads guilty to misconduct for using database for personal gain – Toronto

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TORONTO – A Toronto police officer has pleaded guilty to misconduct at a tribunal hearing for using his position to obtain a woman’s information for personal gain.

Const. Vincenzo Bonazza admits to using his authority and police databases to search information about a woman who approached him in 2008 asking for help.


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New video appears to show on-duty Toronto police officers partying; conduct investigation continues

Bonazza first admitted to the misconduct during a criminal trial in 2018 where the woman accused him of raping her shortly after the two met 10 years earlier.

He denied the sexual assault allegations saying the two had consensual sex.


READ MORE:
Pot-eating former Toronto cop gets 9-month conditional sentence

Bonazza was acquitted of the charge after the judge found the complainant’s testimony to be inconsistent.

The tribunal’s prosecutor and Bonazza’s lawyer have made a joint submission of four days docked pay.



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Canada’s wholesale and manufacturing sales fell slightly in November: StatsCan

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The Canadian economy showed signs of weakness in November as both wholesale and manufacturing sales fell.

Statistics Canada said Tuesday wholesale trade fell one per cent in November to $63.0 billion, more than offsetting the 0.7 per cent increase in October.

Meanwhile, manufacturing sales fell 1.4 per cent to $57.3 billion in November, the second consecutive monthly decrease.

Economists had expected no change in wholesale sales and a drop of 0.9 per cent in manufacturing sales, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.

TD Bank economist Omar Abdelrahman said the data confirms the moderating growth narrative.

‘Temporary shocks’

« Sub-par manufacturing performance is still expected in the near-term, as Alberta’s production curtailment plan starts to reflect in manufacturing sales volumes, » Abdelrahman wrote in a note to clients.

« It is important, however, to note that these are temporary shocks. As these shocks fade, manufacturing sales should receive support from strong economic performance south of the border, a weaker loonie, and expectations of increases in investment spending in the face of elevated capacity constraints. »

Fabricator Mike Caldarino uses a grinder on a steel stairs being manufactured at George Third & Son Steel Fabricators and Erectors, in Burnaby, B.C., on March 29, 2018. Statistics Canada says manufacturing sales fell 1.4% to $57.3 billion in November, the second consecutive monthly decrease. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Royal Bank senior economist Nathan Janzen noted that labour markets still look solid and, notwithstanding recent market volatility, the U.S. industrial sector is continuing to expand.

« We still expect a ‘data-dependent’ Bank of Canada will ultimately view more gradual rate hikes as appropriate this year — but very likely not until confirmation emerges that the expected slow patch over the next couple of quarters is temporary, » Janzen wrote.

Petroleum, coal down 13.8%

Manufacturing sales were down in 13 of 21 industries, representing 45.3 per cent of total manufacturing sales. In volume terms, manufacturing sales fell 0.9 per cent.

The petroleum and coal product industry fell 13.8 per cent due to lower prices for petroleum and coal products as well as maintenance and turnaround work at some refineries and lower production at other refineries.

Partially offsetting the decline was a 1.3 per cent increase in the transportation equipment industry and a 1.5 per cent increase in the food industry.

Meanwhile, wholesale sales were down in five of seven subsectors. In volume terms, wholesale sales fell 1.2 per cent.

The machinery, equipment and supplies subsector fell 2.3 per cent, while sales in the building material and supplies subsector dropped 1.9 per cent.



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Roma, The Favourite lead the Oscar noms with 10 nods each, several Canadians nominated for awards

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Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite led all films with 10 nominations each to the 91st Academy Awards, while Netflix and Marvel each scored their first best picture nomination.

The nominees for best picture are: A Star Is Born, Roma, Green Book, The Favourite, Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody and Vice.

With Roma, Netflix has scored its first best picture nomination, something the streaming giant has dearly sought. Marvel, too, joined the club with Black Panther, the first superhero movie ever nominated for best picture.

Pixar production Bao by Toronto-raised Domee Shi picked up a nomination for best animated short, as did Animal Behaviour by Vancouver’s David Fine and Alison Snowden. The live action short film category has two finalists from Montreal — Jeremy Comte for Fauve and Marianne Farley for Marguerite. Other Canadians up for the golden statuette this year include sound mixer Paul Massey for Bohemian Rhapsody and set decorator Gordon Sim for Mary Poppins Returns. Shi is the first female director to helm a Pixar short film.

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The nominees for best actor are Cooper, Christian Bale (Vice), Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) and Viggo Mortensen (Green Book).

Up for best actress are Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?).

The nominees for best supporting actress are Amy Adams (Vice), Marina De Tavira (Roma), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Emma Stone (The Favourite) and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite). Tavira was something a surprise, while Claire Foy of First Man was left out.

Up for best supporting actor are: Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and Sam Rockwell (Vice). Notably snubbed was Timothy Chalamet (Beautiful Boy).

The lead-up to Tuesday’s nominations was rocky for both the film academy and some of the contending movies. Shortly after being announced as host, Kevin Hart was forced to withdraw over years-old homophobic tweets that the comedian eventually apologized for. That has left the Oscars, one month before the Feb. 24 ceremony, without an emcee, and likely to stay that way.

Some film contenders, like Peter Farrelly’s Green Book and the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, have suffered waves upon waves of backlash, even as their awards tallies have mounted. On Saturday, Green Book won the top award from the Producers Guild, an honour that has been a reliable Oscar barometer. In the 10 years since the Oscars expanded its best-picture ballot, the PGA winner has gone on to win best picture eight times.

The season’s steadiest contender — Cooper’s A Star Is Born — looked potentially unbeatable until it got beat. Despite an enviable string of awards and more than $400 million in worldwide box office, Cooper’s lauded remake was almost totally ignored at the Golden Globes. Still, A Star Is Born was the sole film to land top nominations from virtually every guild group.

The academy is reportedly planning to go host-less following Hart’s exit, something it has tried only once before in an infamous 1989 telecast that featured a lengthy musical number with Rob Lowe and Snow White.

The Oscars last year hit a new ratings low, declining 20 per cent and averaging 26.5 million viewers. Though ratings for award shows have generally been dropping, the downturn prompted the academy to revamp this year’s telecast. Though initial plans for a new popular film category were scuttled, the academy is planning to present some awards off-air and keep the broadcast to three hours.



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