Wednesday, October 9, 2019

"Which Wife Beater [Is] Next?" Workplace Behavior Draws Suspension

An attorney's abuse of co-workers and others drew 30-day suspension from the Law Society of Saskatchewan.

Saskatoon StarPhoenix  reported on the bar matter and notes that he is no longer Director of Legal Services. 

A former Legal Aid Saskatchewan director has been suspended from practising law for 30 days and ordered to pay $22,000 in costs after pleading guilty to 10 professional misconduct charges, including one count of personal harassment and eight of offensive conduct.

As to his Legal Services clients, the panel described the behavior

When the Member entered the waiting room he asked clients involved in cases of domestic violence "which wife beater was next". This comment was made in front of other clients and employees in the workplace.

During the interview with domestic violence accused clients, the Member did ask a client 1) "Are they a keeper or a good fuck" in reference to the victim; 2) would ask a male client whether the female victim was fat; 3) would ask the male client whether the female victim is ugly and if the accused responded that they were not, the Member indicated that he would see them in Court and decide if they were ugly.

The Member states that he used such language in order to ease his relationship with the clients. He accepts that these comments were inappropriate and unprofessional. He also recognizes that the clients were in a vulnerable position in that they were requiring Legal Aid services and that there was a power imbalance in his relationship with them; however, the Member provided adequate and effective representation of his clients despite language that was unprofessional.

Many of the victims were his co-workers

 Member was the Director of Legal Services for Saskatoon Criminal Office of the Saskatchewan Legal Aid Commission. His duties, in that position, included managing the unionized staff of the office in assigning work and office structural units. The Member was not responsible for hiring or dismissing the unionized staff as those functions fell under the purview of Legal Aid's General Office. At all material times, he was in a position of leadership and control over the employees referred to in these charges.

 L.S. was a unionized employee in the Saskatoon Criminal Office working under the direction, control and management of the Member.

The Member entered into a consensual sexual relationship with L.S. in March 2013. Despite the ending of the relationship, LS. agreed to be friends with the Member. She felt pressured into this friendship given that she remained under the control, direction and management of the Member.

Despite the fact that L.S. felt pressured by the situation those feeling were never communicated to the member. The Member admits he should not have entered into the relationship with L.S because of the power imbalance between them and how that imbalance was perceived by L.S. after other employees became aware of the prior sexual relationship. Nevertheless the Member did not convey the impression or communicate, in any manner, that L.S.'s work situation, assignments, hours of work, leave granted, or any other aspect of her work would be affected by not maintaining the friendship.

 L.S. observed the Member referring to herself and other employees as "dumber than a sack of hammers", "a bunch of idiots" and "lazy" in front of other employees.

The friendship with the Member was ended by L.S. in December 2013 when other employees became aware of the previous sexual relationship.

Subsequent to the breakup, the Member continued to invite L.S. to the theatre. She felt she had no option but to attend. Despite L.S. believing she had no option but to attend the Member did not pressure her, compel her or make any threats to her concerning her employment and the Member in his communications left the option to her to attend.

After the friendship ended with the Member, L.S. found herself powerless and isolated in the workplace. She felt she was unable to seek the support of her coworkers; however, the member did not say or do anything other than having been in a relationship with L.S., which would have affected L.S.'s relationship with her coworkers.

As a consequence of the personal relationship with the Member, L.S. took stress leave from work and found her relationship with her coworkers to be detrimentally affected by her relationship with the Member on an ongoing basis.

The "sack of hammers" remark is a recurring theme.

Another complainant

 The Member entered a consensual non-intimate relationship with K.Z., a part-time unionized employee in the Saskatoon Criminal Office who was under the direction, control and management of the Member. The relationship began gradually with meals and progressed on a consensual basis. The relationship was non-intimate in nature and involved a trip with each other paid for by the Member.

During the relationship the Member talked in a rude and derogatory manner about some of K.Z.'s coworkers.

K.Z. ended the relationship after a weekend out of country, but continued to remain friends, to the Members' knowledge until at least October 2013. K.Z. felt uncomfortable due to the power imbalance in the office with the Member given her status as a part-time employee. Despite K.Z.'s feelings, the Member did not convey or communicate, in any manner, that K.Z.'s work situation, assignments, hours of work, leave granted, or any other aspect of her work would be affected by the ending of the relationship.

K.Z. heard the Member refer to other employees as "dumber than a sack of hammers" and "stupid".

The Member admits he should not have entered into the relationship with K.Z. because of the power imbalance between them and how that imbalance was perceived by K.Z. and other staff which resulted in an unprofessional and stressful work environment.

More non-intimate bad behavior in the workplace

J.K. was a unionized term contract employee in the Saskatoon Criminal Office under the direction, control and management of the Member. The retention of J.K. as an employee of the Saskatoon Criminal Office was the responsibility of the Head Office.

J.K. felt uncomfortable with the Member because she held a contract position and was under probationary review by the Member. However, the Member did not have the authority to release or renew the contract of J.K.

 J.K. found the Member to be rude and insulting to her and her coworkers. The Member admits that he made inappropriate comments about her appearance, choice of apparel and physical characteristics. He also made rude and inappropriate comments on her intelligence. More specifically, he referred to her as "stupid" in front of other employees.

The Member, when asked by the Head Office to speak to J.K. about excessive work hours recorded, spoke to her in a rude, condescending and insulting manner.

J.K. never heard the Member speak to male members of the office in the same manner.

The Member admits such conduct was offensive and unprofessional.

And

C.H. was a unionized Member in the Saskatoon office and witnessed the Member say to her, "What did you fuck up today?" Some paralegal staff took such comments, as intended by the Member, to be a joke and lodged no complaint. However, C.H. took those comments as offensive and derogatory.

The Member admits that his conduct towards C.H. and the other paralegal staff was inappropriate and has reconciled himself to the fact that his comments hurt C.H. and caused her to question her effectiveness and intelligence.

 C.H. heard the Member refer to employees as "dumber than a sack of hammers" in front of other employees.

The Member admits his conduct toward C.H. also caused her to question her advancement in the office and caused a strained work environment.

 The Member admits such conduct was offensive and unprofessional.

And

 C.B. was a unionized Member in the Saskatoon office. At all times material hereto, the Member was in a position of leadership and control over C.B. as she directly reported to him.

The Member referred to C.B. as a "witch" and asked her "Where is your broom?". These comments were made between 2012 and 2014.

C.B. heard the Member refer to employees as “’dumber than a sack of hammers". These comments were characterized to one of the coworkers who was very vulnerable and had been struggling with personal health issues. The Member criticized C.B. about her work hours, office attendance, and unprofessional conduct but did so in a manner which was dictatorial and authoritative.

And

The Member admits he made comments on the appearance of M.L.R. in front of coworkers and clients. He referred to her as a "church lady" and "dumber than a sack of hammers". M.L.R. confronted the Member on his comments and informed him that his comments on her appearance were affecting her self-esteem. The Member apologized and the comments decreased. The Member admits that his attempts at humour were wrong and furthermore were derogatory and offensive...

  The Member called L.R. "psycho" in front of students. The Member admits that his attempted joke was inappropriate and unprofessional in front of students. The Member claims that he apologized but L.R. has no recollection of such occurring.

L.R. states the Member repeated the "psycho" statement before L.R.'s mother — he does not recall the event but apologizes for any embarrassment it may have caused L.R. whether in jest or not. The Member acknowledges his behavior regarding this incident was unprofessional and uncalled for.

L.H. heard the Member refer to other employees as "dumber than a sack of hammers" in front of other employees.

Similarly to J.K., the Member commented on the appearance of L.R. and again admits that such behavior was offensive and unprofessional.

Sanction

The oral submissions of counsel also touched on the circumstances related to the complaints in this case. In particular, counsel for the Member outlined the personal circumstances that might help to explain, although not to justify, the somewhat authoritarian and disrespectful conduct that the Member had conceded was inappropriate.

(Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2019/10/an-attorneys-abuse-of-co-workers-and-others-drew-30-day-suspension-from-the-law-society-of-saskatchewan.html

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