A makeup artist who worked at Global News British Columbia is alleging sexual harassment in the workplace by anchor Chris Gailus, according to documents obtained by CANADALAND. Dawne Koke is also claiming the Canadian Human Rights Commission wrongfully tossed discrimination and retaliation complaints over the alleged sexual harassment she suffered at the station in the seven-year period between 2006 and 2013.
Koke filed a notice of application in the Federal Court of Canada in Vancouver on May 12, seeking a judicial review of the Commission’s decision to close her complaints this past April. This is Koke’s fourth attempt at going through official channels. Before going to CHRC in October 2014, she attempted to file a grievance with the union in 2013, but it wasn’t pursued.
According to Rishma Govani, spokesperson for Global News, “The allegation was thoroughly investigated by the company with support from Dawne Koke’s union.” However, no official grievance was filed. According to Govani, “The allegation, which was raised after her job performance was in question, was determined to be unfounded.”
In her Federal Court application, Koke says the CHRC didn’t list Gailus as a respondent and didn’t address her allegations against Shaw when it opened the complaint. Koke says her union, Unifor Media One, has refused since 2013 to file a grievance on her behalf over the sexual harassment allegations or the company’s alleged mishandling of the internal complaint process.
By August 2015, according to the application, she was terminated by Shaw when she didn’t return to work after the company denied her a leave of absence until the complaints were resolved.
According to Koke’s lawyer, Clea Parfitt, the ongoing problem is not with Gailus, but with the way the commission, the company, and the union handled her client’s concerns.
“The story around the sexual harassment is that she raised it with Gailus, he apologized, and he stopped,” she told CANADALAND. “The ongoing problem is with the commission not with Gailus — with the commission and the employer — which has treated her very poorly.”
After the union chose not to pursue her grievance, Koke went on to file the first CHRC complaint.
In the federal complaint, she speaks against Shaw and Gailus, alleging “sex discrimination in the form of sexual harassment by Gailus during the period from 2006 to October 22, 2013, and failure by Shaw to follow company policy or a reasonable process in respect of an internal complaint of sexual harassment to Shaw.”
Koke complained of Gailus making “frequent inappropriate sexual remarks” and “many inappropriate looks.” She claims Gailus would look at her buttocks and make comments. She said Gailus would call her “harsh” or “bitchy” for “not playing along with his comments.” She also claims that on four occasions, the long-time news anchor pretended to get erections while having his makeup applied.
The allegations in the CHRC complaints and the application to the Federal Court have not been proven.
Before she even went to the union, Koke confronted the long-time anchor, according to emails CANADALAND obtained. After being confronted, Gailus changed the behaviour, but the issue boiled over when Koke became dissatisfied with the lack of any formal disciplinary measures taken against him, and the company’s apparent refusal to hold a formal investigation.
From: Dawn Koke
Sent: October 22, 2013 1:20 PM
To: Chris Gailus
I found your comments today, as in the past, to not only be rude but unprofessional.
Going forward I request that any personal, disrespectful, or sexual comments no longer be made.
The next message in the chain is also from Koke to Gailus after an apparent phone conversation:
From: Dawn Koke
Sent: October 22, 2013 3:00 PM
To: Chris Gailus
Subject: RE: comments
I appreciate the phone call, however I must disagree with your sentiment that you are joking. Sarcasm lightly disguised as sincerity does not rate as a joke.
Also a “friend” does not continually over years reduce the other to an ass or a vagina with constant inappropriate sexual comments. Not only is it unprofessional but your comments reduce me to an individual devoid of the ability of intelligent conversation or feeling. My intelligence rates higher than my shoe size despite the fact that I am so obviously inferior by A)being female B)working as a make-up artist.
If you feel that you are receiving less respect than you deserve from me- trying giving it.
Hopefully we have now cleared up any past and future miscommunications.
We are extremely different people Chris but I beleive [sic] if we try it can result in a more respectful and positive situation on both sides.
Minutes later, Gailus sent this reply:
From: Chris Gailus
Sent: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 3:08 PM
To: Dawn Koke
Subject: RE: comments
Sorry Dawne I just saw this after I sent the last email!
I can’t debate what’s funny and what isn’t, only because the right answer is how YOU perceived it. Again, I’m truly sorry. I had a different understanding of what our friendship could bear. I’m so sorry.
Your point is clear, and my regret is absolute.
News Hour Anchor
Global BC Television
In her second CHRC complaint, which she filed nearly two years after going to the union, Koke says Shaw wrongfully retaliated against her over the first CHRC complaint. Koke says Shaw accused her of insubordination for refusing to be interviewed without her lawyer present. Shaw told her she herself was being investigated for sexual harassment, and claimed she had been “not behaving herself appropriately in the workplace after she filed the CHRC complaint,” says the complaint.
In a February letter to CHRC, Koke’s lawyer outlined the vulnerable position as a complainant against Gailus and Shaw.
“The person involved in sexually harassing the Complainant is a very senior member of the employer’s staff, and a person who has a very high profile and level of respect and responsibility in the workplace,” the letter states.
Her lawyer said Koke can’t sue for wrongful dismissal since she was a unionized employee, and her only recourse against the union would be to go to the labour board, where less than four percent of complaints against unions are successful.
According to Shaw’s lawyer Howard Levitt, Parfitt’s letter to the commission was “rather unusual.”
In a March 2016 response addressed to CHRC Human Rights Officer Karla Pulsifer, Levitt claims Gailus was “not her supervisor and had no power over her,” and the alleged “unwanted sexual comments” were part of a “mutual banter” between them.
Later in the letter, Levitt says the “unwanted behavour had ceased” and “Gailus provided [Koke] a strong apology.” Levitt’s letter also states other women who Koke alleged suffered harassment at the hands of Gailus believed that Koke was “vindictive, mischievous, and unhappy generally in the workplace.”
Levitt’s letter says Koke was satisfied to continue working with Gailus after the apology and it “was only when she was disciplined for unrelated poor performance that she saw an angle to give her leverage with the employer using the Commission’s processes in bad faith.”
But Parfitt maintains that, “the commission has seriously fallen down on this file.”
Carmen Devereaux, a CHRC spokesperson, said she can’t comment on specific cases due to privacy legislation, but she rejected the notion that the commission was doing the bidding of the government of the day, or the government of yesterday.
Parfitt said that while union employees enjoy the protections of a collective agreement and a grievance process, they can find themselves out of luck if the union decides not to proceed with a grievance.
“It’s a significant catch-22 for unionized employees that they do have the potential support of the union, but if the union decides not to exercise that support, the griever has virtually no way of making the union do that,” Parfitt said. “Basically, if your union chooses not to grieve, you’re screwed, and that’s what happened to her with respect to the sexual harassment grievance.”
Koke declined multiple interview requests. Gailus did not respond to interview requests from CANADALAND. Shaw’s lawyer Howard Levitt declined an interview, but said in an email that the allegations were “ridiculous and misleading.” Andrea McBride, who was handling the file for Unifor Media One, also didn’t respond to requests for comment. Shaw, which is now owned by Corus, did provide a statement, but only after Koke’s lawyer objected to Shaw’s court filing. She claimed Shaw’s filed response was improper.
Should anyone provide comment, the story will be updated.