More allegations in lawsuit claim that university ‘blamed the victims’

Four employees allegedly fired after accusing McKendry.

By Matt DiMera
[coordinating editor]

Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s human resources head allegedly advised a former employee “to endure the abuse” from then-president John McKendry since he was scheduled to retire the end of August 2012, according to new claims filed in a civil suit against the university.

Sandra Kuzyk claims that Harry Gray repeatedly reminded her of the president’s employment end date, when she reported McKendry’s alleged “violent outbursts, abuse and harassment” through fall 2011 until spring 2012.

Former KPU president John McKendry. (Photo courtesy KPU)

The new allegations were filed Aug. 28 in the B.C. Supreme Court in reply to the university’s response to her original July 26 claim. Kuzyk claims she was fired after complaining about McKendry and is seeking unspecified damages for wrongful termination.

The suit also alleges that KPU “sought to ignore, downplay and re-characterize the harassment and abuse carried out by [McKendry] and the physical and psychological affects on its employees as “stress and “unsettledness,” thereby blaming the victim for the abuse and perpetuating the abuse.”

Kuzyk denies the university’s assertion that Ellen Hill, a human resources manager, reminded Kuzyk of the university’s policies about harassment and claims that she did not discuss her concerns with McKendry because she was afraid of him. She says that Hill advised her that a formal complaint “would not be accepted and to forget about the matter.”

In her original filing Kuzyk claimed that she, Anne Lavack and Mary Jane Stenberg were all fired by the university after they raised concerns about McKendry’s alleged behaviour. Kuzyk now also alleges that a fourth employee, Shelley Coburn, was also fired after speaking up about McKendry.

The suit claims that Coburn, who then worked as an assistant to Stenberg, met with Gordon Schoberg, the then-chair of KPU’s board of governors at a local Cactus Club restaurant on July 13, 2012. Coburn allegedly relayed her fears that she, Stenberg and Kuzyk were going to be fired for coming forward and that Schoberg promised all of their jobs would be safe.

Coburn allegedly also told Schoberg that Kuzyk’s then-assistant, Laura Legg, had been moved into Kuzyk’s office and was found crying and scared at having to work with McKendry. On Sept. 6, 2013, Legg filed her own lawsuit against the university, also alleging wrongful termination.

Kuzyk also claims that through June and July 2012, Stenberg and others reported alleged abuse from McKendry to Schoberg, but the university failed to act or to stop the harassment. She alleges that when Stenberg confronted Harry Gray and demanded he act that Gray responded that he was unable to.

Kuzyk also alleges that in June and July of 2012, Schoberg emailed the incoming president, Alan Davis, to advise him of ongoing reports with respect to McKendry’s “fits of rage and harassment.” She claims that while in June four employees had come forward, by July the total number had risen to ten employees.

Kuzyk further claims that she received a voicemail from Schoberg in June asking if she would agree to be interviewed by Gray or by an external person regarding her allegations but that neither Gray nor anyone else ever attempted to set up an interview with her.

The university has not yet filed a response in court to the new claims. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The university’s spokesperson, Joanne Saunders, declined to comment on the case.

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