Exclusive: Calgary call centre dispatchers accuse female colleagues of sexual harassment
Two men are speaking out after they say they were sexually harassed by female superiors while working at the City of Calgary's 911 call centre.
According to FOIP documents given to CTV News by the complainants, several incidents took place while they worked for the city from 2011 to 2015.
The two men spoke to CTV News for this exclusive report and we've agreed to change their names to protect their identities.
When John Austin joined Calgary's 911 call centre in 2011 with a dream of helping people, he never imagined he'd be the one who would end up needing help.
For four years, Austin says he endured sexual harassment from female colleagues that included everything from sexual innuendos to unwelcome advances.
“My supervisor actually reached over and undid the top button of my shirt,” said Austin.
Austin’s co-worker, Trevor Robertson, says he experienced a similar culture at the call centre; female coworkers swapping dirty jokes, watching risqué videos and making fun of men.
“I tried to get away from it as much as I could. I saw that nothing was being done,” said Robertson.
In 2012, Austin decided to complain. “She turned towards me and she said, you can’t sexually harass a man.”
Austin says he suffered in silence because nothing changed and his doctors documented growing anxiety and depression. “Not every guy enjoys being harassed by women,” he said.
In 2014, Austin says a supervisor pursued a sexual relationship. Texting him messages like, ‘I find you very hot and sexy’ and discussing sexual fantasies.
“When someone who is your boss extends an invitation like that, there’s no real good response, there’s no way you can win in that situation,” said Austin.
He reciprocated, which is something that doesn’t surprise Mount Royal University Human Resources Professor, Melanie Peacock.
“The person receiving these requests might feel that his or her job is threatened, his or her security, his or her opportunities even, in the company, would be threatened if he or she does not provide what is being asked for,” said Peacock.
When Austin ended the relationship he says the woman threatened him.
Then, a few months later, Austin and Robertson received an email from two female colleagues; one, their acting supervisor.
In it, the women talked about sex toys and having intercourse with Austin, saying ‘we will wreck him’.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening while I work for the City of Calgary,” said Austin.
Reading it as a rape threat, Austin handed the email to the head of 911, Richard Hinse.
“I just feel that if the roles were reversed, if two men wrote this exact same email to two women, that they would be fired,” said Austin.
CTV News confirmed that the women continued to work at the call centre after the investigation and one was promoted.
The city says it won’t speak to any specific cases but when CTV News contacted the mayor, his office expressed shock at the allegations but referred us to the Human Rights and Respectful Workplace centre to address questions on the code of conduct policy.
“It depends on the specific circumstances and the specific allegations and what not,” said Desmond Kary, Human Rights and Respectful Workplace. “If people bring forward concerns under the Respectful Workplace Policy they are investigated and the appropriate action is taken. Now, you get into that, you know, yes the policy has been violated but again there’s a wide range of potential discipline or steps that could follow that.”
Meanwhile, Austin and Robertson say they've left their jobs due to stress, victims of a double standard.
“Because I am a male, I can’t be harassed, I can’t be bothered by these comments,” said Austin.
“This is the City of Calgary. This is an organization that should be making the work environment safe for their employees, not the other way around,” said Robertson. ““They’re all aware of what they said. It’s in black and white. It’s been written down. This isn’t something you can escape. It’s there but there has never been any accountability.
Austin has also launched a human rights complaint. The file is still open.
The City of Calgary says it stands by its internal processes and when asked why senior roles or promotions wouldn’t be affected by the allegations, the city responded by saying, "career advancement doesn't cease to exist after one situation."
Austin, Robertson and other PSC employees CTV News spoke with all agree there needs to be a cultural change.
CTV News reached out to the commander of the call centre as well as the women at the centre of the case and they did not respond to our request for an interview.
(With files from Jamie Mauracher)