After her boss urged her to “be fruitful and multiply” during a career-planning session, a Health Canada employee filed a harassment complaint, and has taken a leave of absence from the civil service, saying the federal government has bungled its response.
Krystal Deiter, an administrative assistant, made the complaint after a June 15, 2012, meeting with her boss, Wadieh Yacoub, a medical officer of health based in Edmonton. The two – both Christian – were reviewing Ms. Deiter’s “employee career interest identification” when Dr. Yacoub read a Bible passage to her, suggesting she had a duty to “produce God’s offspring and be fruitful and multiply,” according to a Health Canada harassment complaint investigation obtained by The Globe and Mail.
“When she protested that she already had one child, he responded that having just one child was not sufficient,” the report quotes Ms. Deiter as saying in her claim. Dr. Yacoub denies making that comment, but acknowledges reading the verse. The investigator, consultant Margaret Michaels, found harassment had occurred.
Health Canada will not say what action it took, citing privacy concerns. Ms. Deiter was seeking an apology, a “harassment-free workplace,” a transfer and sensitivity training for her boss.
The complaint caught her boss by surprise. “I could not believe this,” Dr. Yacoub said, according to the report. He apologized verbally to Ms. Deiter in July, and did so again in writing in August. “The reality was that I should not have talked about her family and the Bible,” Dr. Yacoub said.
After the complaint, Ms. Deiter was shuffled to other jobs, and briefly sent back to work for Dr. Yacoub. She went on sick leave in November, citing stress-related symptoms she attributes to the ordeal. She returned for four days this year, and took an unpaid leave in February. She is seeking a cash settlement to quit the civil service.
“I want justice at this point, because nothing’s been done,” Ms. Deiter, 35, said in an interview, adding that she felt pressed to drop her complaint by colleagues who had previously respected her. “Now I was being talked about [as if I was] part of a conspiracy theory, and I didn’t really mean all this and that I was just trying to bring him down. ‘And now, you know, you just need to shut up and get back to work and not say anything.’ ”
Dr. Yacoub said the pair had a solid working relationship “wherein each person was free to state his or her thoughts openly.” Dr. Yacoub produced e-mails for investigators in which Ms. Deiter sought “prayer support” and offered to pray for Dr. Yacoub’s family. However, the report said that she only once attended bi-weekly prayer meetings with a handful of Christian staff.
Ms. Deiter’s union alleges Health Canada played down her complaint. “They said, ‘It’s the manner in which he speaks. It’s recognized in the office, this is the way he speaks.’ These types of things trivialize it,” National Health Union president Tony Tilley said.
Dr. Yacoub did not return messages. Health Canada declined to discuss the case, including its response or any punishment, saying only that it was investigated. “Allegations of harassment are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated and appropriate actions are taken in keeping with the findings of an investigation,” spokesman William Wells said.
While both sides generally agree on what happened, Ms. Michaels wrote, they had a “markedly different interpretation.”
According to the 42-page report, Ms. Deiter alleged Dr. Yacoub tried “to impose his religious beliefs upon her and influence her career,” claiming his “paternalistic attitude” was condescending.
Dr. Yacoub told the investigator Ms. Deiter did not show “any concern or offence caused by our discussion on family at the meeting.” According to the report, he said “this was all done from a fatherly heart or sensibility.”
The investigator sided with Ms. Deiter. “The complainant is a capable, responsible and well-respected employee, not a child in need of guidance from her father,” Ms. Michaels wrote, saying Dr. Yacoub “ought reasonably to have known that his comments were demeaning.”
The investigator rejected a second complaint – that Ms. Deiter’s career was stunted because of gender discrimination.
Mr. Tilley says harassment allegations are “fairly commonplace” in government.
“It has changed in the last three or four years, because there’s more emphasis on dealing with [harassment] and trying to curtail it,” he said. “But, you know, they’ve had some successes and some failures.”