Wednesday, 21 November 2018

If A Lawsuit Falls In The Forest...

The civil lawsuit filed by four players who formerly played for the University of Lethbridge's women's hockey team moved forward today with a statement of defence issued by the University and the defendants in the case. While I normally wouldn't comment on a statement of defence since they're usually simple denials of the accusations, this statement of denial put forth by the Alberta institution might be the most comical and tone-deaf statement of defence one could make in trying to win this case. Hearing this news today actually has me wanting to see the four women win their case against the University of Lethbridge just out of spite.

Let's go to Global News' Matt Battochio in Lethbridge for the update.

Wow. That is some terrible lawyering being done on behalf of the University of Lethbridge. Their defence against the allegations of bullying and harassment is basically:

A) What they said happened actually never happened, but...
B) If it did happen, it's being hyperbolized, and/or...
C) If it did happen, it happened so long ago that it's no longer relevant, and/or...
D) If it did happen, there were no damages caused.

Look, let's cut to the chase here. The University of Lethbridge already found that head coach Michelle Janus' actions towards the four former players named as plaintiffs - Olivia Alexander, Alannah Jensen, Chelsea Kasprick, and Brittney Sawyer - were indeed harassment. The July 31 report filed by Lethbridge's Vice-President of Finance and Administration and interim Chief Human Resources Officer Nancy Walker read,
"The conclusion relating to the harassment complaint was that the Policy on harassment has been violated. The investigation conclusion in regards to discrimination was that based on the balance of probabilities and findings of fact, the Policy on discrimination of different treatment on the basis of protected grounds has not been violated."
That's a pretty cut-and-dry statement: the harassment policy has been violated. In terms of Option A above, what the players said happened was confirmed by the school they're suing in this lawsuit! If that's not an act of admission, I'm not sure what would be.

Nevertheless, the lawyers for the school, Athletic Director Ken McInnes, and head coach Michelle Janus seem to believe that the harassment never took place despite the report filed by Miss Walker stating it, in fact, did take place. One of the statements from University representatives today was, "Generally, the university defendants state that there is no merit to the allegations contained therein, and that this action should be struck as it is scandalous, frivolous and vexatious and an abuse of process."

Is this a comedy playing out in real life? Let me spell this out for you: YOU, UNIVERSITY OF LETHBRIDGE, ALREADY CONFIRMED HARASSMENT HAPPENED. There is no going back now. You, University representative, cannot undo what your employer already said happened and implemented corrective measures for Michelle Janus to follow to remain employed. You can't claim you were crossing your fingers when you said that. There are no "returnsies" on that statement. It happened, you admitted it happened, so the "merit to the allegations contained therein" aren't even up for debate. I'm no lawyer, but this seems like a simple concept, no?

Option C would be your statute of limitations claim, and these complaints about Janus' treatment of these four players happened from 2015 until present as far as the law is concerned. In other words, the statute of limitations challenge on these allegations is, again, laughable at best and downright ridiculous at worst. Who are these lawyers?

So after eliminating Options A and C, we're left with the players possibly blowing these allegations up into something more than they are and the harassment that Janus imposed on them causing the players no damages. We can certainly point to Option D as being egregiously false as one player - Olivia Alexander - quit the team, left the University of Lethbridge, and vowed never to set foot on the campus again. I'm pretty certain that shows some mental anguish after the treatment she received at the hands of Michelle Janus, so let's call a spade "a spade" in saying there certainly are damages emotionally and psychologically to at least one of the four players.

So are the players blowing Janus' treatment of them out of proportion? That will be up to the judge to decide. They'll be able to testify, they'll be cross-examined, and they will have their day in court when it comes to resolving this issue. Like the above claims made by the defence that logically seem proven to be false, I'm quite certain that the women named as plaintiffs aren't hyperbolizing any of the claims they made as players as they would have nothing to gain from that at that time. They simply wanted the bullying and harassment to stop, and it's pretty obvious that Athletic Director Ken McInnes did nothing to prevent further bullying or harassment of these four players, making the University of Lethbridge part of the culpability since the school employed both McInnes and Janus.

I'm not here to make a ruling since a judge who is far wiser and smarter than I will come to a conclusion once the cases for both sides are presented. However, logic seems to dictate that the path that the University of Lethbridge lawyers are taking in trying to have this civil lawsuit dismissed is fraught with premises that hold no water. $1.1 million is a lot of money for the University of Lethbridge to lose when it comes to paying out the maximum amount that these four women are seeking, but perhaps this will be an expensive lesson in taking claims of bullying and/or harassment seriously in the future.

The smartest thing the lawyers for the University to propose at this time? A settlement with the four women. Because this case seems like it may already be lost based on their statement of defence.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

UPDATE: After speaking with one of the plaintiffs, it seems that U SPORTS, who the women appealed to with the hopes they would review the case with respect to the harassment and bullying policy within Canadian university sports, decided there was little they could do to help the four plaintiffs. I'm not sure how they decided that when the school admitted there was indeed harassment against the plaintiffs, but it seems U SPORTS dropped the ball on this one in this writer's opinion.

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