Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has called on UCP Leader Jason Kenney to remove his party’s house leader after it was revealed that Jason Nixon fired a woman in 2005 who complained about sexual harassment on a Kelowna worksite.
Notley said if Nixon was her house leader “he would be out.”
“Mr. Kenney must answer to this,” she said of the Opposition leader. “Mr. Nixon was his handpicked selection to be his political lieutenant, his political spokesperson. So did he know and not care? Or now that he does know, what’s he going to do about it?”
Notley said it is dishonest and disingenuous for Nixon to argue against the need for Alberta to put workplace harassment policies in place.
Bill 30, An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans, was introduced in the Alberta legislature late last month. Kenney’s party has opposed some parts of the bill.
Under the bill, employers and supervisors would be required to take measures to prevent harassment and violence in the workplace. Workers would be prohibited from engaging in harassing, bullying or violent behaviour.
Notley said Nixon wasn’t being upfront with his fellow MLAs.
“For him to come into this house and say … he believes industry is always going to do the right thing is incredibly dishonest,” the premier said of Nixon. “Because he knows of one particular case where … it didn’t do the right thing. It did the wrong thing.”
B.C. human rights tribunal findings
A ruling from the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, handed down on Dec. 30, 2008, involved three companies: Nixon’s company, Nixon Safety Consulting (NSC); Navigator, a company building a condo in Kelowna; and Con-Forte, a company that performed concrete work on the site. It also involved Greg Ford, an independent contractor.
The tribunal found that Nixon’s company fired its safety officer, Kori Harrison, in December 2005 after she complained that Ford had sexually harassed her.
“I find that Mr. Ford sexually harassed Ms. Harrison, and that NSC terminated her employment when she complained,” adjudicator Kurt Neuenfeldt wrote in the tribunal’s decision.
“I find that NSC terminated her employment at the urging of Navigator, and with the tacit approval of Con-Forte.”
‘I should have pushed back’
Nixon told reporters Tuesday he made a mistake in the way he handled the case.
“Now, with the benefit of hindsight and experience … I believe I should have pushed back very hard on my client at that point … and I probably should have terminated my relationship with that client at that point,” he said.
“At no point did we not acknowledge what was happening to Ms.Harrison was wrong; we thought it was wrong,” Nixon said. “We stood up for it. We tried to make sure she was safe. We tried to address it the best we could. And we made some mistakes while we were dealing with it.”
Harrison, who was 27 at the time, said Ford slapped her on the buttocks and propositioned her. Ford also offered her marijuana, lingerie and truck tires in return for sex, the tribunal found. She was also encouraged to dress sexier while she worked at a construction site.
Ford, who was Harrison’s supervisor, watched pornography on a work computer and asked her to watch with him on at least one occasion, the tribunal also found.
“Harrison told Mr. Nixon what had been going on with Mr. Ford, and that he had been touching and propositioning her,” Neuenfeldt wrote in his report.
“At the end of the conversation, Mr. Nixon asked her to send him an email about what had been occurring, as he needed something in writing. Mr. Nixon told her that there was no way this sort of thing would be tolerated. He also told her not to go into work the next day, and that he would call her.
“Ms. Harrison noted at the hearing that, although she had never met Mr. Nixon in person, she found herself crying during the conversation.”
Nixon’s letter informed employee she was fired
On Dec. 20, 2005, Harrison received a letter from Nixon, notifying her that her services were no longer needed, the tribunal report said.
That letter was quoted in the report. “We are writing to inform you that as of Jan. 1, 2006, we will no longer require your services on ‘The Lofts Project.’ Over the past few weeks it has become apparent that you are not fitting into the role that we need on ‘The Lofts Project,’ and upon review with our client Navigator Development it is clear that you are not meeting the requirements of the site safety adviser position on the project.”
Harrison won a $32,000 award for damages and lost wages.
Kenney said in a statement that Nixon was a “25-year-old small business owner” when Harrison was fired from her job.
“I must also make clear that the UCP does not oppose legislated harassment provisions in Bill 30, and to suggest otherwise is false,” Kenney said.
“Mr. Nixon has personally stated that he supports legislation that covers various types of harassment in the workplace, and that education of employers is also necessary.”
Kenney said Bill 30 is a “comprehensive piece of legislation,” and stakeholders have raised concerns that other parts of the bill could cause layoffs.
“We have repeatedly requested that the government split the bill into smaller pieces of legislation, so that MLAs can vote on individual elements.”
Nixon argued in the legislature last week that industry already has policies in place.
“If you spent any serious time within all the industries that this would apply to, you would see that harassment policies have been strongly in place for a very long time in most companies,” he said. “And the right way to deal with it is to get the industry to address it, to work through their safety associations, to understand the uniqueness of each organization, and they will do it. They’ve already proven it.”