TTC hit with lawsuits as employees allege workplace bullying, harassment
A Toronto Transit Commission employee can be seen above. (Eberdova/Dreamstime)
Published Wednesday, October 5, 2022 5:46PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 5, 2022 5:46PM EDT
Insults, discrimination, mental distress and a lack of support from leadership – these are some of the claims brought forward by Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) employees who say bullying and harassment have become commonplace in the publicly funded workplace.
CTV News Toronto has interviewed more than a dozen current and former employees who say they've witnessed or been subject to bullying, discrimination and intimidation.
Due to a shared fear of professional or legal repercussions, CTV News Toronto has permitted one of those employees to speak anonymously. Others have gone on-the-record or put their names in legal briefs.
Michael Getchell, a former assistant manager of the commission, told CTV News Toronto he was subject to bullying at the hands of two of his managers.
“There was an overwhelming sense of fear every morning I got up for work,” Getchell said of the time spent on the receiving end of the alleged behaviour. “I couldn’t sleep at night.”
In addition to personal accounts, CTV News Toronto has learned of two lawsuits, seeking a combined $700,000, filed by recently-departed employees. The allegations outlined in the court documents echo those described in interviews. They have not been proven in court.
When reached for comment, the Toronto Transit Commission said it has “extensive policies and procedures to deal with all manner of workplace disputes” and that they “promote and practice a culture of inclusion, acceptance, and tolerance.”
Spokesperson Stuart Green said the TTC can’t comment on ongoing litigation, but that it looks “forward to the facts being presented to the courts so they can determine whose version of the events in question are correct.”
“As with any organization our size (16,000), it would not be unusual that some employees could be unhappy with work assignments they don’t agree with. Others could be the result of disputes with their manager arising from poor performance,” Green said.
“In very rare cases, people will escalate those disputes, as is their right.”
‘CONTINUED HARASSMENT AND BULLYING’
Pamela Ashcroft, 52, worked at the TTC for 15 years.
Initially hired as a bus operator, Ashcroft worked her way up to training sergeant within the special constable service. According to her statement of claim, filed in April, she received “nothing but positive feedback and performance reviews” over the course of her employment.
Between summer 2020 and 2021, Ashcroft claims the conditions of her employment began to deteriorate and she was subject to repeated "bullying, harassment, and misogynistic and discriminatory attacks" at the hands of a male colleague. She alleges the behaviour reached a point she had no choice but to quit the commission.
Within her statement of claim, Ashcroft alleges she was called a “f***ing c***” by the colleague in question after requesting he comply with COVID-19 protocols. The lawsuit says the exchange happened in front of employees that reported directly to Ashcroft.
On separate occasions, the documents allege the colleague told Ashcroft “nobody wanted her’' in the workplace, and that he had referred to her as “his girl” in front of staff, management and third-party contractors present for a meeting.
The lawsuit alleges management was made aware of the situation, but failed to take action on Ashcroft’s behalf, putting her in a position where she had to “accept continued harassment and bullying, or leave.” Documents claim the events caused Ashcroft enough mental distress that she was forced to quit her “long-established, stable employment.”
In its statement of defence, the TTC denies Ashcroft’s allegations, calling them “meritless,” and alleging she “had always intended on resigning her employment at the time she did.” It also says it “vehemently denies” Ashcroft was ever called a derogatory term.
In a separate incident, described to CTV News Toronto by three employees present, a high-ranking leader of the commission is said to have verbally berated a subordinate in front of dozens of others while participating in a virtual meeting in 2020. Those present said the leader yelled and swore at the employee – allegedly continuing until a colleague muted the microphone of the leader.
“It was public humiliation,” an employee present said.
Many of the accusations brought forward both in lawsuits and employee accounts allege, on multiple occasions, TTC management and executives not only failed to protect staff from bullying, but inflicted it themselves.
Melanie Manos, a former TTC closures and diversions coordinator, would have celebrated a decade of service with the commission in August.
Instead, Manos, 50, argues, like Ashcroft, her work environment left her with no choice but to abandon her career this spring. In turn, she’s seeking just over $200,000 in damages from the transit agency.
A statement of claim filed on behalf of Manos in May says, after returning from a medical leave in July 2021, she was “subjected to a poisoned work environment” in which her direct manager refused to accommodate her disability, discriminated against her, and that the commission’s leadership failed to address the behaviour.
After raising concerns about a lack of accommodations, Manos claims she was summoned to a meeting with her manager in which she was verbally attacked. Her statement of claim describes the meeting as "extremely traumatic."
Following the meeting, Manos filed a formal workplace harassment and discrimination complaint with the TTC’s Human Rights and Investigation department (HRID) and says she contacted the TTC’s Employee and Family Assistance Program in an effort to access counselling.
Upon receiving Manos’ complaint, the TTC launched an investigation that took nearly seven months to complete. In the end, a report circulated to the HRID and delivered to Manos, found some of her claims to be substantiated, but that, ultimately, the manager in question hadn’t violated the TTC’s Respect and Dignity Policy.
The TTC says the investigation was “full and fair” and that “the events and [the manager’s] conduct in relation to them did not constitute harassment and/or discrimination on the basis of gender, sex or disability.” The agency’s statement of defence also denies Mano’s manager ever verbally attacked her.
After the investigation, Manos was asked to return to work under the same manager. This is when she says she felt she had no choice but to quit.
In an account similar to Manos', Michael Getchell also alleges he was bullied by TTC management.
While Getchell worked at the commission for nine years, it wasn’t until the final two years of his employment, when he began to train as a manager, that the circumstances changed.
It was 2019, he says, when his management started to exhibit behaviour that made him feel “demeaned, incompetent and isolated.” A lack of clear direction, paired with alleged harsh criticism, left Getchell feeling in perpetual doubt, he recounted. He says it rendered him unable to perform his job duties.
During this time, Getchell says he began to experience panic attacks for the first time in his life. He also says he was prescribed anxiety medication.
In 2020, Getchell authored a 37-page complaint detailing his experience and submitted it to HR and TTC executives. The complaint prompted an investigation, which Getchell says took nearly two years to complete and found that the TTC’s Respect and Dignity Policy had not been violated.
Getchell cites this experience in his decision to resign from his position in 2021.
“I couldn’t do it anymore,” he said. “[The TTC] didn’t care.”
ARBITRATIONS ON THE RISE: UNION
Daruisz Nowotny, interim president of CUPE 5089, representing the TTC’s special constables, fare inspectors and guards, told CTV News Toronto arbitration between 5089’s members and the TTC has consistently increased in recent years.
“In 2020, we counted 11 grievances. In 2021, we ended up with 29 grievances, and at this juncture in 2022, we are at 21 grievances,” he said.
Grievance data provided by the TTC indicates that total grievances, including those from ATU Local 113, the union representing a majority of the TTC’s workforce, have increased in the last two years. In 2020, there were 388 grievances, rising to 438 and 519 in the years following. However, Green says the “vast majority” of recent grievances are related to COVID-19 safety policies and vaccine dismissals.
Conversely, Notowny says CUPE 5089 currently have approximately 20 active grievances – of which three refer to vaccination policies.
“Therefore, the majority of our grievances deal with other issues – namely workplace harassment, denial of sick pay, refusal to provide accommodations, unfair investigative practices, breach of minutes of settlement, and inappropriate disciplinary actions,” Notowny said.
President of Local 113 Marvin Alfred also told CTV News Toronto costs from arbitration cases involving his members are trending upward in recent years, adding the union is currently spending approximately $6 million on arbitration annually.
Notowny also noted that many of the TTC’s employees – largely those in management and leadership positions – are not in unions, and therefore do not pursue arbitration.
“Their avenue is civil court proceedings which can typically end in non-disclosure agreements,” he said.
CTV News Toronto asked the TTC what it has spent on arbitration and settlements in the last two fiscal years, but did not receive the information.
Within their statement, the Toronto Transit Commission underlined a number of protections in place to ensure workers are treated with dignity, respect and compassion, including hiring their first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer in 2021, the establishment of both a Whistle Blower Reporting and Protection Policy and the Human Rights and Investigations Department.
“The TTC [..] prides itself on the respect and dignity it shows employees on a daily basis,” Green said. “We have the deepest appreciation for the work our staff do every day to keep the TTC running and we thank them for their work.”
The TTC maintains that Ashcroft, Manos and Getchell’s experiences are isolated instances, unrelated to one another.
Looking ahead, many employees, both current and former, said they want better conditions for those still employed at the commission.
“I hope there’s either a probe or some kind of a change that will benefit the employees still there,” Getchell said.
“I know and care for a lot of those people.”