This show must not go on

Harassment allegations at Toronto broadcaster shows some employers still need to adjust their dial

This show must not go on

What happens when the star of the show turns out to be the villain?

One of the big factors that comes into play in workplace harassment, abuse, and violence is an imbalance of power – the perpetrator has power or has more importance than the victim. Unfortunately, it seems like that same factor can help insulate perpetrators from the consequences. While such circumstances seem to fly in the face of what we hope is an age of a more enlightened attitude towards bad workplace behaviour, those attitudinal changes may mean that consequences are inevitable, although occurring later than they should. Media company Corus Entertainment may be finding that out now and employers everywhere should take notice.

Corus Entertainment owns properties such as Global Television and Toronto radio station Q107. Late last week, veteran media personality Jennifer Valentyne released a video on social media in which she described harassment and discrimination over the two years she co-hosted a morning radio show on Q107, at the hands of another personality on the program. Valentyne and others later confirmed that it was Q107 morning radio host John Derringer. Other female broadcasters who had worked on the show quickly came forward and supported Valentyne.

Valentyne said she was subjected to behaviour such as being screamed at, belittled, called names, brought to tears, and laughed at. She also claimed that two co-hosts vaped in the studio, causing her to develop a persistent cough and start using an inhaler. Others in the studio “watched uncomfortably, yet supported him because they knew what would happen to them if they went against him,” Valentyne said in the video.

When Valentyne brought her concerns to Corus, she was told she should move jobs or there would be a problem, she said. She eventually moved to co-host a morning show on Global Television in 2019, but Corus fired her a year later. Before joining Corus, Valentyne spent 23 years on the television show Breakfast Television on CITY-TV.

It looks like Corus has some real trouble on their hands, and it’s something that likely could have been avoided. If Valentyne’s version of events is to believed – given the amount of support she’s been receiving from other co-workers of Derringer, both female and male, there’s no reason not to – the company was well aware of Derringer’s behaviour and how female employees were being treated.

Valentyne has filed a gender discrimination complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Derringer seems to have been suspended indefinitely by Corus while an external investigator looks at the matter. Corus publicly acknowledged that Valentyne had brought concerns to management and they reviewed the matter at that time, stating that such concerns “are of the utmost importance to us.”

However, given that at least some members of management were likely aware of what was going on for a while, it’s probably too late for Corus to save itself some real financial and reputational trouble. So why did it wait until now to deal with the problem?

It appears to be an example of harassing, discriminatory conduct that was condoned by the employer because the perpetrator was a big player in the industry and famous in the market. While sometimes it may seem easier to an employer to let such behaviour go, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that it won’t be easier in the end.

About three years ago, a federal arbitrator upheld the dismissal of three CN railway workers who harassed a female colleague on their crew. The harassment included comments, threats, and being put on the spot by her supervisor, which the arbitrator described as “mobbing” and acting in concert.

Just last year, an Alberta employer was found liable for harassment that a female worker experienced from her supervisor. The supervisor made repeated sexual comments to her and texted her at home. The employer investigated and determined there had been inappropriate behaviour, but only sent the supervisor to awareness training without doing anything else. The worker was later terminated for legitimate reasons, but an arbitrator awarded her $20,000 for the harassment she experienced and the employer’s inadequate response.

In recent years, legislation such as the federal Bill C-65 have placed greater responsibilities on employers to respond to workplace harassment and develop harassment prevention policies. The provinces have similar legislation, either on their own or through occupational health and safety legislation, so it’s becoming harder for employers to avoid dealing with workplace harassment and abuse.

It may be difficult when a prominent and key employee is found to be involved in workplace harassment and abuse, but it doesn’t change the employer’s responsibility to deal with it and protect the health and safety of employees. Sometimes, the show just can’t go on.

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