One of the co-founder and former artistic director of
Soulpepper Theatre, Albert Schultz, has been accused of bullying, sexually assaulting,
and harassing women who worked for him.
Diana Bentley, Kristin Booth, Patricia Fagan and Hannah
Miller — four actresses from the theatre filed lawsuits claiming $4.25 million
in damages from Soulpepper and $3.6 million from Schultz himself.
The alleged plaintiffs claimed that they were victimized by
“a sexual predator who . . . had well-developed methods for targeting actresses
and luring them into situations that he considered optimal for sexually
harassing and assaulting them.”
Soulpepper’s board of directors say they had no knowledge
of the claims until the lawsuits were filed, which displays the lack of
interest for maintaining a healthy work culture.
An independent review done by a workplace policy expert in
the fall of 2017 stated that the procedures would maintain a safe and healthy workplace,
but this was just a hollow guarantee as seen by the subsequent events at the
Soulpepper Theatre Company is not only facing a lawsuit,
but its very survival is at stake. Moreover, production of Amadeus is already
cancelled by the artists and also those who have bought tickets.
The government has stopped funding until the organization
ensures healthy and harassment-free work environments. This would in turn help
the organizations to place robust systems to prevent abuse and to avoid the
risk of financial and reputational damage in the future.
In short, this would serve as a learning lesson for boards
of directors of all arts groups to be proactive in making cultural changes now
and to ensure the well-being of their employees by maintaining healthy work
Moreover, the management could have avoided this situations
by making some changes to their existing policies, procedures, programs, and
training to reflect the amendments made by Bill 132 (Occupational Health and
The workplace harassment programs at the theatre needs to
be revamped to include more specific detail on reporting and investigation
processes, and has to be created in consultation with the joint health and
safety committee, or a health and safety representative. Workplace
Anti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual Harassment Policy (Bills 168 and 132) –
Ontario provides a good starting point.
The new harassment program and accompanying policies must
inform artists and employees how to file complaints, as well as the steps that
will be taken to maintain confidentiality. Standard guidelines should be
created to ensure the consistency of investigations.
The employees and artists must be properly educated from
time to time about Workplace Anti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual Harassment
Policy and measures that needs to be taken to avoid the same. Harassment should
not be ignored, as silence can and often is interpreted as acceptance.
Employees should be assured that if they rejected sexual advances
or lodged a complaint when they were being harassed or discriminated, they will
not be demoted, dismissed, disciplined, or denied a promotion, advancement, or employment
The employer must complete a thorough investigation once a
written complaint is received. The organization should ensure that, where
practicable, the investigation is completed within 90 days of the complaint
being filed. During the course of investigation the employer should
ensure that all the information obtained must not be disclosed, unless the
disclosure is required by law or necessary for further investigation.
The management should also be reminded that under Bill 132
insufficient action or resolution on the part of the employer to investigate
properly may result in the Ministry of Labor conducting an investigation at the
Once investigations are completed employers need to be
prepared to provide written reports to both the alleged harasser and the
complainant that detail the outcome of investigations, and the corrective
actions taken. In addition, employers must review their harassment program
annually, and adjust its contents as necessary.
The major problem with the theatre’s workplace violence and
harassment policy was that the issues were required to be reported in writing
to the executive director — Schultz’s wife, Leslie Lester or to the
director of human resources, Sarah Farrell, also the company’s general counsel.
This created a perception of bias and fear of reprisal amongst the artists.
Therefore, in such a situation follow company procedures
and file a complaint with HR. Always give the employer an opportunity to fix
the problem, first and make sure to consult your employee handbook’s policies
and maintain a paper trail throughout the entire process. If you feel
completely left behind by HR and it is clear that they don’t have your back,
it’s time to start looking for support elsewhere.
They can file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal
of Ontario (HRTO) within one year of the last incident of sexual harassment.
The Human Rights Legal Support Centre may help people file human rights
The applicant will be asked on the application or response
form if they are willing to try mediation. The goal of mediation is to help the
parties reach an agreement (settlement) that resolves the issues in the
application. The HRTO mediates disputes using an active listening approach.
This means that both sides will have an opportunity to tell a HRTO mediator
what happened and what they would like to see done about it. The mediator does
not decide the application. He or she will consider what you say and look at
the documents provided to help find a resolution that is satisfactory to both
The applicant will need to sign a confidentiality agreement
before the mediation. If he/she settle the case in mediation, they will have to
complete a settlement form. The HRTO will issue a letter to acknowledge the
settlement and close the file. If he/she can’t reach a settlement, the file
will proceed and may be placed in queue to be scheduled for a hearing.
Mediation at the HRTO
is a voluntary process. The applicant is encouraged to mediate but if one or
both of the parties is not interested in trying mediation, the application will
go directly to a hearing.
In-short Soulpepper Theatre could have avoided reputational
and financial damage by maintaining a healthy work culture and re-shaping the
existing Workplace Anti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual Harassment Policy.