Former employee of Hugh Munro Construction, terminated in February 2018, says she was assaulted months earlier

A Winnipeg woman is suing the construction company she used to work for, alleging she was fired in retaliation for reporting that she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker.

The woman, a former employee of Winnipeg-based Hugh Munro Construction Ltd., says she was wrongfully terminated in February 2018. She reported the assault in October 2017.

In a statement of claim filed to Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench on Feb. 27 of this year, she alleges the assault happened while she and several other employees were posted to a remote work site in northern Manitoba and living in shared accommodations.

Prior to the assault, the suit says she’d “steadily progressed” through the company’s ranks, including two promotions in four years. But after reporting, she alleges she was belittled and targeted with false disciplinary complaints in a “conspiracy to wrongfully terminate” her employment, before being fired following a “surprise” drug test.

“Not only was [she] abandoned in a time of need by her employer, much worse, she was targeted by her employer.”Lawyer Joseph Fiorino

The woman — who CBC is not naming the woman to protect her identity — is suing the company, its owner and six employees for damages totaling more than $1.1 million, arguing she was wrongfully dismissed.

None of the claims have been proven in court.

Assaulted at northern work site: lawsuit

In her statement of claim, the former employee says she’d been working for the company for just over four years when she was promoted to field co-ordinator in July 2017. At that time, the company had a stockpiling job in Lynn Lake, about 815 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Infrastructure confirmed the company was working on a provincially awarded contract in the area at the time, but said the province couldn’t comment on the matter as it’s before the courts.

The group of 25 workers sent to the remote site were put up in an apartment building in nearby Leaf Rapids, rented by Hugh Munro Construction, the suit says. On Oct. 9, 2017, the woman was asked to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for the group during the day.

Around 2:30 p.m., she went to borrow some kitchen utensils from a co-worker who had stayed behind from the jobsite that day, the suit says. She alleges management hadn’t informed anyone the man had been told to stay in his suite for the day after excessive drinking the night before.

The man let her into his suite to get the utensils, the lawsuit alleges, and then sexually assaulted her.

Belittled, harassed, taunted: suit

Joseph Fiorino, the woman’s lawyer, told CBC his client reported the assault to the RCMP. Tara Seel, a spokesperson for the police force, wasn’t able to confirm or deny the report.

The lawsuit alleges the woman also reported the assault to superiors within the company that day, but no action was taken by the company to investigate, discipline her attacker or distance the two from each other.

Her statement of claim says the following month, she was posted to another remote work site with her attacker. When she told a superior about the emotional stress and fear she was experiencing at work, he was short with her and acted “perturbed and annoyed,” the statement says.

In the following weeks, she alleges supervisors at the company belittled her and targeted her with false disciplinary warnings, describing events she says never happened.

Then, in February 2018, her lawsuit says she was at a work gathering one night when a co-worker “repeatedly bombarded” her to try a substance he said would help her relax — although he wouldn’t tell her what it was. After declining repeatedly, she agreed to try it but stopped when she didn’t like it, the suit says.

The next morning, the same co-worker was appointed to oversee a surprise drug test, which was administered to her and three other employees, her statement of claim says.

Two days later she was fired, although no positive drug test results were provided when she asked to see them.

‘Not given help when she needed’

“[The plaintiff] was not given help when she needed it from Hugh Munro Construction management. The attacker was not terminated or removed from the workplace,” Fiorino said in an email to CBC News.

“Not only was [she] abandoned in a time of need by her employer, much worse, she was targeted by her employer.”

The suit says she experienced severe mental, emotional and psychological distress, including depression, nightmares and anxiety that she continues to live with. She’s been unable to perform daily activities, engage in recreational and social activities, and has a diminished capacity to perform household tasks.

She’s been left to suffer from “the trauma from that sexual assault and harassment, the enduring of a sexualized workplace, and the victim shaming in the aftermath,” Fiorino wrote.

Hugh Munro Construction, a Winnipeg-based heavy construction company, did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

Originally posted on by Aidan Geary on March 9, 2019