Employment Law

Ariella Kimmel, Alberta government staffer, sues for wrongful dismissal

Ariella Kimmel, harassment, wrongful dismissal

Staff member fired after witnessing excessive drinking, inappropriate comments

Ariella Kimmel, a former senior staff member in the Kenney government, has sued her former employer, claiming almost $400,000 in damages. The damages are related to allegations of wrongful dismissal, moral and bad faith damages. Moral and punitive damages are a significant part of the claim and are based on Kimmel’s allegations that she was fired for concerns she raised about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Throughout her employment, Kimmel claims to have witnessed excessive drinking in various Ministers’ offices, aggressive yelling, and sexually inappropriate comments made to staff members. When she raised concerns about these improprieties, she claims that no steps were taken to support the victims or to investigate the sexual harassment.

Instead, the government took a wait-and-see approach as the harasser was scheduled to leave the government a few months later at the end of his term. Ms. Kimmel was fired from her role as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation on February 5, 2021.

Obligation to report harassment at work

Under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act), employees have an obligation to report any harassment that they witness, and employers have an obligation to ensure that none of their workers are subjected to, or participate in, harassment at work. Employers have an obligation to investigate every complaint of harassment they receive.

Reprisals and wrongful dismissal

Under both OHS legislation as well as under the Alberta Human Rights Act, it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee who reports harassment. Doing so amounts to reprisal and could entitle the employee not only to moral and punitive damages, as claimed by Kimmel, but also severance, back pay, and potentially to reinstatement.

Kimmel was herself not the victim of harassment but claims that she was terminated for reporting she witnessed harassing behaviour against someone else. It’s important to note that victims and allies are both protected against reprisal under the Alberta OHS legislation and the Human Rights Act.

Ms. Kimmel’s harassment allegations have not been proven in court, but even if they are found to be unfounded, the government was not allowed to terminate her for having made the complaint. Terminating someone for making an unfounded complaint is still reprisal and is therefore illegal.

Reprisals at work
What you need to know about workplace harassment

Takeaways for employees

Employees should not be afraid to speak up if they experience or witness harassment, violence, or discrimination in the workplace. Both the OHS Act and the Human Rights Act provide multiple avenues of redress to employees who have been the victims of reprisal.

Employees can claim lost wages from the date of the termination to the date of the hearing before the appropriate tribunal, which can amount to a year or more of salary. They may also be entitled to punitive damages over and above their lost wages. Finally, they may be reinstated into their former position, or receive additional compensation in lieu of being reinstated.

Takeaways for employers

Employers need to take complaints of harassment in the workplace very seriously. As many recent news stories have shown, companies have suffered legally, financially, and had their reputations suffer as well by trying to protect high-powered harassers instead of investigating complaints.

The first thing an employer should do when they receive a complaint of harassment in the workplace is to consult with a lawyer to establish a roadmap for conducting a thorough and impartial investigation.

What to do if you experience workplace harassment

If you are experiencing workplace harassment right now, you should explore your legal options. You may be able to claim constructive dismissal, which means that you can quit your job and claim severance pay. You may also be entitled to damages pursuant to the Human Rights Code in Ontario, BC, and Human Rights Act in Alberta.

Before you take any action, it is important that you contact our team in either TorontoVancouver, Ottawa, or Calgary. Our employment lawyers for Alberta, B.C. and Ontario can explain what your workplace rights are and how Samfiru Tumarkin LLP can help you protect them.

Have you been a victim of workplace harassment?

Our Pocket Employment Lawyer can give you a better understanding as to whether or not you have been harassed at work, and what you can do about it.

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