Former employee claims CJLO as a sexist work environment
A former employee of CJLO, Concordia University’s campus radio station, recently filed a labour complaint under the Canadian Labour Code, claiming the station’s executive team created a hostile work environment for women. The former employee also claims she was fired without just cause.
Ellen Smallwood, who served as the station’s director of promotions, fundraising and sponsorship from January 2015 to November 2016, filed the complaint on Tuesday, March 28. Smallwood will be represented by the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), a Montreal-based civil rights organization.
Smallwood claims tensions began between her and the station’s executive board and management team in June 2016. At the time, a group of employees, including Smallwood, suggested putting up posters around the radio station’s office to promote it as a safe space. The posters would have condemned sexism, racism, transphobia and other forms of bigotry. According to Smallwood, certain employees opposed the poster because they felt it interfered with their freedom of speech, as well as freedom of the press. She claims this was an indirect form of oppression against minorities.
According to Smallwood, in the weeks that followed, the pro-poster employees created multiple designs for the poster with various anti-oppression messages, but all of them were taken down or opposed. She said the station manager, Michal Langiewicz, eventually decided to hold an online vote for the station’s volunteers and staff on whether they approved of the poster. While Smallwood claims the staff overwhelmingly voted in favour of displaying the poster, she claims Langiewicz still refused to put it up.
Also speaking out is another female former employee, who wished to remain anonymous. The anonymous employee corroborated some of Smallwood’s claims regarding the work environment and tension created following the safe space poster debate.
“The problem is not only that the safe space poster has not been put up,” the anonymous employee said. “Proudly stating that racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and, in general, any abusive language or actions will not be tolerated at the station should never even have been up for debate.”
Smallwood claims, after the poster debate, tensions grew and the workplace environment became increasingly hostile towards female employees.
Smallwood did not name any particular board executive when outlining her complaint, although she did describe Langiewicz’s leadership as being “paternalistic and sexist.”
Smallwood said the official reason she was let go was because the executive board believed a non-student would be able to commit more hours to the station. Smallwood added she was not informed in-person, and she received no advanced notice or warnings regarding her performance or behaviour.
“I was told I didn’t have to go back to the station after that,” Smallwood said. “I was told that they had everything taken care of, and I was never able to go back after that.”
Smallwood also claims an employee told her she was not fired in-person or given advanced notice because she would have “cried like a baby.” It is a statement Smallwood said she feels exemplifies the sexism she faced in her position. She did not disclose the name of the person who made this comment.
In addition, Smallwood was allegedly presented with a written document by Langiewicz full of “legal jargon” that offered her minimal compensation if she agreed not to discuss being fired.
“This is the first labour complaint in 17 years we are dealing with,” Langiewicz said. “We cannot comment on any details at this point for reasons of confidentiality, except to say that we are seriously disputing the allegations.”
Fo Niemi, the executive director and civil rights defender representing Smallwood said that the purpose of the complaint was not only to correct past actions, but to protect future employees from the same conditions Smallwood faced.
“[CJLO] treated an adult woman like a young, fragile girl, and created a toxic environment for women… this is not only corrective, this is preventative. It’s making sure these things won’t happen to other workers,” Niemi said.
Despite the complaint, Smallwood spoke positively about the majority of the station’s staff, and specified that she is speaking out not to attack the radio station as a whole, but to protect its current and future employees from facing similar circumstances.
“The volunteer community at CJLO is diverse, talented and does amazing work—they deserve better than the board’s toxic and dehumanizing processes, negligence and groupthink … They deserve to know the truth of why certain employees are no longer there,” Smallwood said.