Insults, discrimination, mental stress and a lack of support from management are some of the allegations made by Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) workers who say bullying and harassment have become common in publicly funded workplaces.
CTV News Toronto has interviewed more than a dozen current and former employees who say they have witnessed or been victims of bullying, discrimination and intimidation.
Due to a common fear of professional or legal repercussions, CTV News Toronto has allowed one of these employees to speak anonymously. Others have registered or put their names on legal papers.
Michael Getchell, a former assistant director of the commission, told CTV News Toronto that he was being bullied by two of his managers.
“Every morning when I got up for work, there was an overwhelming sense of dread,” Getchell said of the time spent accepting the alleged behavior. “I couldn’t sleep at night.”
In addition to the personal accounts, CTV News Toronto has learned of two lawsuits seeking a total of $700,000 filed by recently departed employees. Allegations in court documents echo those described in interviews. They have not been proven in court.
Reached for comment, the Toronto Transit Commission said it has “comprehensive policies and procedures to address all types of labor disputes” and that they “promote and practice a culture of inclusion, acceptance and tolerance.”
Spokesman Stuart Green said the TTC could not comment on ongoing litigation but looked forward to “presenting the facts to the courts so they can determine whose version of events in question is correct.”
“As with any organization of our size (16,000), it would not be unusual for some employees to be dissatisfied with work assignments they do not agree with. Others may be the result of arguments with their manager due to poor work performance,” Green said.
“Very rarely do people escalate these disputes, as they have a right to do.”
ONGOING HARASSMENT AND BULLYING
Pamela Ashcroft, 52, worked for the TTC for 15 years.
Originally hired as a bus operator, Ashcroft worked his way up to sergeant in the Special Constabulary. According to her lawsuit filed in April, she received “nothing but positive feedback and performance evaluations” during her tenure.
Ashcroft alleges that between 2020 and the summer of 2021, her working conditions began to deteriorate and she suffered repeated “bullying, harassment and misogynistic and discriminatory attacks” by a male colleague. He claims the behavior reached a point where he had no choice but to leave the commission.
In his lawsuit, Ashcroft alleges that the colleague in question called him an “evil ***” after he asked him to follow COVID-19 protocols. The lawsuit says the exchange took place in front of employees who reported directly to Ashcroft.
The documents allege that the colleague told Ashcroft that “nobody wanted her on the job” and that he referred to her as “his girl” in front of employees, management and third-party contractors present at the meeting.
The lawsuit alleges that management was notified of the situation but failed to take action on Ashcroft’s behalf, putting her in a position where she had to “put up with continued harassment and bullying or leave.” The documents allege that the events caused Ashcroft enough mental anguish that he was forced to quit his “long-established stable job.”
In its defense statement, the TTC denies Ashcroft’s claims, calling them “baseless” and saying he “always intended to leave his job.” It also says it “vehemently denies” that Ashcroft was ever called the derogatory term.
In a separate incident described to CTV News Toronto by three employees present, a senior executive at the commission allegedly verbally abused a subordinate in front of dozens of others while participating in a virtual meeting in 2020. the driver yelled and swore at the employee – allegedly continuing until a colleague muted the driver’s microphone.
“It was a public humiliation,” said an employee who was present.
Many of the allegations, both in lawsuits and in employee accounts, allege that TTC management and executives not only failed to protect employees from bullying, but also caused it themselves.
Melanie Manos, the TTC’s former closures and diversions coordinator, would have celebrated a decade with the commission in August.
Instead, Manos, 50, argues that, like Ashcroft, his work environment left him with no choice this spring but to give up his career. He, in turn, is seeking just over $200,000 in damages from the transportation agency.
A lawsuit filed on behalf of Manos in May says that after returning from medical leave in July 2021, he found himself in a “toxic work environment” where his line manager refused to accommodate his disability, he was discriminated against and that commission management failed to address the behavior.
After raising concerns about a lack of accommodation, Manos claimed he was called to a meeting with his manager where he was verbally assaulted. Her lawsuit describes the encounter as “extremely traumatic.”
After the meeting, Manos filed a formal complaint of workplace harassment and discrimination with the TTC’s Human Rights and Investigations Division (HRID) and said he contacted the TTC’s Employee and Family Assistance Program to access counseling.
Upon receiving Manos’ complaint, the TTC began an investigation that took nearly seven months to complete. Ultimately, a report was sent to HRID and delivered to Manos, which found that some of his allegations were justified, but ultimately that the driver in question had not violated the TTC’s Respect and Dignity Policy.
The TTC says the investigation was “thorough and fair” and that “the events and [the manager’s] their conduct did not constitute harassment and/or discrimination based on sex, gender or disability. The agency’s defense also denies that Mano’s manager ever verbally assaulted her.
After the investigation, Manos was asked to return to work under the same manager. That’s when she says she felt she had no choice but to quit.
In a similar account to Manos, Michael Getchell also claims he was bullied by TTC management.
While Getchell served on the commission for nine years, things changed only in his last two years on the job, when he began training to become a manager.
It was 2019, he says, when his management began behaving in a way that made him feel “humiliated, incompetent and isolated.” He recounted that the lack of clear direction, coupled with the alleged harsh criticism, left Getchell with eternal doubt. He says it prevented him from fulfilling his duties.
During this time, Getchell says he began experiencing panic attacks for the first time in his life. He also says he was prescribed anxiety medication.
In 2020, Getchell drafted a 37-page complaint detailing her experiences and submitted it to HR and TTC managers. The complaint prompted an investigation, which Getchell said took almost two years to complete and found no violation of the TTC’s respect and dignity policy.
Getchell cites that experience in his decision to step down in 2021.
“I couldn’t do it anymore,” he said. “[The TTC] didn’t care.”
ARBITRATIONS ON THE RISE: FEDERATION
Daruisz Nowotny, interim president of CUPE 5089, which represents TTC special constables, fare inspectors and guards, told CTV News Toronto’s arbitration between 5089 members and the TTC has grown steadily in recent years.
“2020. we counted 11 complaints in total. In 2021 we had 29 complaints and at this point in 2022 we have 21 complaints,” he said.
Arbitration data provided by the TTC shows that the total number of arbitrations, including ATU Local 113, which represents the majority of the TTC workforce, has increased over the past two years. In 2020, there were 388 cases, increasing to 438 and 519 in subsequent years. However, Green says the “vast majority” of recent arbitrations are related to COVID-19 safety policies and vaccine waivers.
In contrast, Notowny says CUPE 5089 currently has approximately 20 active complaints, three of which are related to vaccination policies.
“Therefore, most of our complaints are related to other issues — namely, workplace harassment, denial of sick pay, denial of accommodations, unfair investigative practices, breach of settlement protocol and inappropriate disciplinary actions,” Notowny said.
Local 113 president Marvin Alfred also told CTV News Toronto that the cost of arbitration cases involving his members has risen in recent years, adding that the union currently spends about $6 million on arbitration each year.
Notowny also noted that many TTC workers — largely those in management and leadership positions — are not unionized and therefore are not seeking arbitration.
“Their route is civil litigation, which can usually end with non-disclosure agreements,” he said.
CTV News Toronto asked the TTC what it has spent on arbitration and settlements over the past two fiscal years, but received no information.
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