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British Columbia UBC ordered to pay author Steven Galloway for breaching confidentiality terms

The University of British Columbia has been ordered to pay author Steven Galloway $60,000 for breaching the confidentiality terms of an award he won after an arbitrator concluded the school violated the former professor’s privacy rights and damaged his reputation when it suspended and then fired him two years ago.

Arbitrator John Hall also said the school must pay the UBC Faculty Association – which had filed the initial grievance on Mr. Galloway’s behalf – $15,000.

In his original ruling, Mr. Hall awarded the celebrated writer $167,000 in damages, bringing the amount the school has now been directed to pay out as a result of its handling of the matter to more than $240,000.

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“While nothing can make up for what has happened, I’m grateful that [the arbitrator] has ruled that UBC’s subsequent public comments are in breach of his original award … [and] contravened my privacy rights and caused harm to my reputation,” Mr. Galloway said in an e-mail statement to The Globe and Mail.

“I hope this penalty halts UBC from committing further infractions and finally allows myself and my family to begin to put this hell behind us.”

Steven Galloway is pictured at UBC in 2014. Photo by John Lehmann / The Globe and Mail.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The university said it accepted the arbitrator’s decision and had already taken steps to comply with his directions.

“Our public comments had been motivated by our wish to support our staff and others who had been publicly criticized by Mr. Galloway over the [Justice Mary Ellen] Boyd investigation,” said Philip Steenkamp, vice-president of external relations, in a statement released by the school.

The Galloway case has roiled Canada’s literary community since it became public three years ago. In November of 2015, the school suspended the author of the bestselling novel The Cellist of Sarajevo for what it said were “serious allegations” while he headed the school’s creative-writing department.

A memo circulated by the school indicated an investigation was going to be initiated, but added that if students needed counselling or had information that was concerning to their “safety and well-being,” they were to contact university officials.

The communiqué fed speculation about what precisely Mr. Galloway might have done.

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Retired B.C. Supreme Court justice Mary Ellen Boyd was brought in to conduct an independent probe. Among those she interviewed was the main complainant, a former student in the program who alleged Mr. Galloway had sexually assaulted and sexually harassed her. Mr. Galloway denied the allegations but did acknowledge having a consensual affair with the woman. There were less serious charges levelled against Mr. Galloway by other students, ranging from making inappropriate jokes to creating a sexualized environment.

Ms. Boyd effectively dismissed most of contentions, including the most serious made by the main complainant based on what the jurist called “a balance of probabilities.” However, she did find Mr. Galloway had engaged in an inappropriate affair with the middle-aged student and had failed to notify his superiors of the relationship.

The school fired him, citing a “record of misconduct that resulted in an irreparable breach of trust.”

Mr. Galloway filed a grievance, claiming his reputation had been ruined as a result of the school’s handling of the allegations.

He withdrew a claim to be reinstated and for compensation for lost income and benefits. He said later there was no possible way he could return to the school, so poisoned was his name and so compromised was his relationship with many faculty and students.

In his original June ruling, the arbitrator found that certain communications by the university had contravened Mr. Galloway’s privacy rights and caused harm to his reputation.

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After that ruling, both sides in the dispute made public comments. Mr. Steenkamp told The National Post that “the allegations of sexual misconduct were not the only issues the university examined during its review of his employment.”

He could not say what those issues were but added: “It was everything taken together.”

The university also posted a statement on its website that said, in part, that the decision to fire Mr. Galloway was “fully justified.”

There were other comments Mr. Galloway and the faculty association argued violated the terms of the original decision.

In terms of the boundaries that Mr. Hall placed on all of the parties in the initial arbitration award, most pertinent was that the confidentiality terms did not affect what the parties said about matters outside the arbitration proceeding – such as the Boyd investigation – provided there was no public comment on the reasons for Mr. Galloway’s dismissal.

In the latest ruling, dated Sept. 25, Mr. Hall found Mr. Steenkamp’s statement that the allegations of sexual misconduct were not the only issues the university took into account in firing Mr. Galloway was a clear breach of the confidentiality edict. The arbitrator agreed that Mr. Steenkamp’s statement amounted to “vague innuendo” that was harmful.

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Remarking on the nature of the UBC’s breach, Mr. Hall wrote: “As the applicants submit, it represents a new and continuing violation of the Grievor’s privacy rights which, of course, has been the basis of the initial damages award.”

He ordered that UBC immediately remove the statement it had posted after the original award.

Mr. Steenkamp is scheduled to depart UBC in the new year to become president of Royal Roads University in Victoria.

Richard Johnson, senior partner at Kent Employment Law, called the award significant and rare. Usually, it is the individual who received money in an arbitration who is at the greatest risk of breaching confidentiality terms – not the payor.

“What the arbitrator is saying to UBC is what you’ve gone and done in breach of the directive I gave you is further hurt him, further make life even more difficult for him. So I’m going to put a price tag on that that has some meaningful impact," Mr. Johnson said in an interview.

Editor’s note: (Oct 10, 2018) An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a retired justice who looked into complaints against Steven Galloway “effectively dismissed all of the contentions.” In fact, the main complainant’s copy of the report states that the investigator accepted the main complainant’s “allegations that [Mr. Galloway] made increasingly inappropriate sexual comments and advances towards her over a number of months in late 2010 and early 2011.” Key portions of the report the main complainant received were blacked out, in particular the conclusions related to sexual harassment.
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