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Former RCMP constable Janet Merlo at her home in Nanaimo, B.C. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)
Former RCMP constable Janet Merlo at her home in Nanaimo, B.C. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

Professor adds voice to proposed harassment suit by women against the RCMP Add to ...

A University of Toronto professor is bolstering a proposed class-action lawsuit against the RCMP, saying women who experience gender-based discrimination and harassment can witness their personal and professional well-being spiral downwards.

Jennifer Berdahl, an associate professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, filed an affidavit Monday in British Columbia Supreme Court as part of a larger court action launched in March 2012 by Janet Merlo, a former member of the RCMP.

Merlo alleges that during her 19-year career with the force, she was subjected to name calling, sexist pranks, and demands for sexual favours.

Her case has yet to be certified and the allegations have yet to be proven in court, although 282 former and current members from nine provinces and three territories have come forward to describe their experiences.

“The impact on women who have been the subject of gender-based discrimination and/or harassment in the workplace is typically a downward spiral of impaired professional and personal well-being, especially if the discrimination and/or harassment is not stopped,” states Berdahl in her affidavit.

As a result, women can experience diminished professional reputation, impaired concentration, decreased motivation and job satisfaction, increased work withdrawal, social rejection and isolation, the deterioration of personal relationships, depression, post-traumatic stress and even alcohol and substance abuse.

While harassment generally originates with men, women can participate in the behaviour and can be rewarded for their actions, and men can also be harassed, Berdahl says.

Berdahl states employers can take steps to protect female employees by providing workers with written guidelines and training and by following provincial health and safety rules and federal human-rights legislation.

Employers can also provide their employees with multiple channels for reporting bad behaviour, she adds.

Once a complaint is filed, employers should begin an immediate investigation, and the consequences for such behaviour should be meaningful and include official warnings, suspensions, re-education and training and even termination, she states, noting there should also be zero tolerance for retaliation.

Traditionally, male-dominated employers like the RCMP must be especially vigilant in protecting women from harassment and discrimination, she adds.

“Leadership needs to be pro-active in calling out and condemning gender inequality, and in holding managers accountable for following, communicating, and implementing policies, procedures, codes of conduct, and guidelines against gender-based discrimination and harassment.”

Berdahl states she prepared her report to inform the court on the issue.

The case has yet to be certified. Merlo’s lawyers have stated previously that they want a certification hearing in December, but the federal government asked a judge recently to delay a hearing until April or May of 2014.

A spokesman for the RCMP could not be reached for comment.

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