Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s office is countering allegations of sexual harassment, drinking and backbiting by a former staff member with its own allegations.
The prime minister’s office, in a defense statement to Ariella Kimmel’s lawsuit, says it did not fire her for raising concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace. She says she was fired because she openly gossiped, criticized and shared personal details about colleagues and supervisors.
The document also says she was fired because her boss at the time, Labor Minister Doug Schweitzer, wanted someone else as chief of staff and there was nowhere else to put Kimmel.
“During the tenure of his employment (Kimmel) engaged in inappropriate and disrespectful behavior toward programming staff, the director of talent, and other members of the front office staff and department officials,” the document filed Monday reads.
“He also engaged in gossip with other employees of the defendant during which he shared personal details about his colleagues and openly criticized his colleagues, his supervisors and his former colleagues.”
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The document says that Kimmel continued destructive behavior after being warned about it.
She was fired on February 5.
Kimmel is suing the prime minister’s office for late payments and damages, alleging in his lawsuit that his professional reputation suffered and he was exposed to a “poisoned work environment.”
None of the allegations in the lawsuit or defense statement have been proven in court.
Kimmel’s attorney, Kathryn Marshall, responded Thursday.
“The defense statement contains completely false allegations about the character of my client,” Marshall said in a statement.
“One of the main reasons whistleblowers don’t talk about misconduct in the workplace is fear of the type of character assassination that the prime minister’s office is engaging in.
“We intend to present a response to the defense statement and we look forward to questioning the prime minister.”
In her claim statement, which was filed two months ago, Kimmel alleges that the dispute ran for nearly four months, beginning in October 2020, when she was Schweitzer’s chief of staff.
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Kimmel alleges that he reached out many times to two other cabinet ministers and several senior staff in Kenney’s office in an attempt to seek redress and set clear rules after one of his staff members was humiliated by the high health official Ivan Bernardo in a meeting in the office.
In the lawsuit, Kimmel alleges that Bernardo told the employee: “I had not seen you on this floor before because with a body like that, I would have noticed you.”
The claim says that Kimmel was told that Bernardo would be leaving his job at the end of 2020, which he did. Meanwhile, the lawsuit alleges, Kimmel was the target of anonymous smears and gossip online before being fired.
The prime minister’s office, in the defense statement, says there were clear rules on how to report and act on complaints of sexual harassment.
Regarding Bernardo’s accusations, the document says: “If the alleged comment was made, the incident was resolved to the satisfaction of the person to whom the comment was directed, to the extent that the accused has knowledge.”
Bernardo has previously declined to comment as the matter is before the courts. But he has said that he hopes to give his version of events.
In the defense statement, the prime minister’s office says that some talks alleged by Kimmel did not take place. He denies being responsible for the gossip that accuses Kimmel of leaking harmful news to the media, and denies that he was behind an anonymous Twitter account that published details about his alleged romantic relationship with former agriculture minister Devin Dreeshen.
Dreeshen is also listed in Kimmel’s lawsuit, which refers to a past relationship with Dreeshen and alleges that he was unable to obtain support from the prime minister’s office about his concerns with his heavy drinking during an incident. The document alleges that Dreeshen had been drinking in an office of the legislature and, when Kimmel implored him to cut it down, he berated her to the point that she burst into tears.
Dreeshen, citing concerns about his alcohol behavior, resigned from the cabinet a month ago. The defense statement says that if the argument did occur, it was a personal matter between Kimmel and Dreeshen.
“(Kimmel) was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the alleged incident,” he says.
READ MORE: Devin Dreeshen resigns as Alberta’s minister of agriculture and forestry
On Thursday, Schweitzer said in a statement that while the prime minister’s office has the final say on the chief of staff’s appointments, he had requested that his head from his old justice portfolio accompany him to his new position in the fall of 2020. .
“I was informed that (the Chief Justice of the Cabinet) would be transferred to my office as part of a coordinated personnel change in early 2021,” Schweitzer wrote.
“I assumed that Ariella Kimmel was going to be transferred to another office … I never asked the prime minister’s office to terminate her employment.”
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Schweitzer added: “I am not aware of any complaints filed against Ariella Kimmel related to her behavior or performance. I have been a reference for Ariella Kimmel since her departure from the legislature ”.
The defense brief requests that the claim be dismissed with the costs borne by Kimmel.
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