The civil suits between Soulpepper Theatre Company, Albert Schultz and four actors who alleged the former artistic director of Toronto’s largest not-for-profit theatre company was a “serial sexual predator” have been settled out of court – but they will have significantly altered the inner workings of arts institutions across Canada.
Terms of the settlements, which a source close to the proceedings told The Globe and Mail were reached in the past week, are under wraps – and so the announcement of the legal end to English Canada’s first major #MeToo scandal was quiet, with minimal spinning by the parties involved.
Launching the first public statement on the matter on Wednesday morning, Schultz’s lawyer said “the actions brought against [Schultz] have been resolved in a way that is satisfactory to him.”
A statement from Soulpepper followed shortly after confirming the legal actions commenced against them by the four women were resolved as well – with the theatre expressing a commitment “to continuing our process of renewal.”
Alexi Wood and Tatha Swann, counsel for the plaintiffs, Diana Bentley, Kristin Booth, Patricia Fagan and Hannah Miller, next simply confirmed “that the matters have settled.”
None of the erstwhile plaintiffs or defendants would comment further, leaving the rest a guessing game.
Did the four women collectively get close to the $4.25-million from the theatre company and $3.6-million from Mr. Schultz that they claimed in total damages when they launched their separate suits on Jan. 3? Or did they receive the amounts the magazine Toronto Life (prematurely) reported last month – enough to cover their legal fees plus an amount “in the low thousands" each?
Margaret Waddell, a partner at Waddell Phillips who handles class-action litigation including cases that involve abuse, says that all sides in a case such as this benefit from settling out of court – whether it is victims avoiding being retraumatized by legal proceedings, or the individuals and institutions being sued avoiding more reputational damage during the media coverage of a trial.
As for money matters, Waddell says, “I don’t know the particulars of the settlement, but there wouldn’t have been a settlement unless both sides agreed that the number was fair and reasonable."
And to focus on the size of the settlement or the idea of winners or losers is to lose track of what the plaintiffs in the Soulpepper/Schultz suits really wanted to achieve – which Wednesday’s news of the resolution confirms they have.
In the lead-up to launching their legal actions in January, I interviewed Bentley, Booth and Fagan and they all told me the money was not their primary concern.
At the time, Booth told me that her main goal was to protect other women from the sexual harassment and assault she alleged in her statement of claim she was subjected to by Schultz at Soulpepper. Initially, she told me she thought simply about speaking publicly, but decided a lawsuit “made sense, because it’s the fastest way and the most efficient way to have Albert removed from his position at Soulpepper and to make Soulpepper sit up and listen.” This proved to be so.
Fagan, who initially contemplated simply sending a letter to the board of directors of Soulpepper about Schultz’s alleged sexual conduct and comments at work, expressed a similar motivation to me at the time. “In Canada, you can only sue for money,” she said. “You can’t [say], ‘Based on this claim, we want you fired.'”
For Bentley, her initial instinct was to approach The Globe to air her allegations of being groped by Schultz. But after connecting with other women, she told me on the eve of filing suit, a lawsuit seemed a way “to come forward in a way that we all felt safe and protected.” The dollar amounts asked for actually made her squeamish. “I have no interest in the financial aspect at all,” she told me at the time.
I don’t know if the women’s goals shifted over the course of the past seven months. All declined to comment now – and their allegations will forever be followed by a note that they were not proven in court.
But over at Soulpepper, regardless of the settlement amount, the company is facing deficits and still dealing with the loss of what had been a planned $375,000 raise in its annual grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.
Waddell, who is currently representing dancers in a class-action suit against the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, says a take-away from the Soulpepper case is that harassment and abuse is not only harmful to the victims of it. “It can also be extremely harmful to the institutions where [such] employees are operating if the institution doesn’t have adequate safety measures in place to prevent this kind of conduct going unchecked,” she says.
The statement from Soulpepper on Wednesday noted, “We are focused on ensuring not only that our policies are as strong as possible, but also that the structure and culture create a safe and respectful environment that supports all our artists and staff while maintaining the highest level of excellence in all that we do.”
Now, the race is on for arts institutions across Canada that haven’t already followed suit to implement similar policies – and ensure that present and, just as importantly, past employees know and believe they will be listened to on matters of harassment. Because Bentley, Booth, Fagan and Miller have just carved a path for others to follow when internal policy and procedures are in doubt.