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Canada Ex-director suing CBC over firing says he was 'scapegoat' in Ghomeshi affair

Jian Ghomeshi leaves court in Toronto on March 24, 2016 with his lawyer Marie Henein.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Fired over the Ghomeshi affair, a former senior executive is suing the CBC for more than $640,000, saying he was scapegoated and sacrificed in a face-saving effort by senior management.

Todd Spencer, 45, accuses the national broadcaster of blaming him for the public mess over former star host Jian Ghomeshi. Yet, top management – up to and including CBC president Hubert Lacroix – were "deeply involved with and aware of" the investigation that he and others carried out into allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi, he says.

"The CBC terminated Spencer's employment for cause for political reasons and has used Spencer as a scapegoat for the Ghomeshi affair," a legal filing with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice says. "Spencer states that the CBC fired him to send a message to the Canadian public that the CBC takes matters of workplace harassment seriously."

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The CBC says in its statement of defence that it was justified in firing Mr. Spencer. It accuses him of lying to senior management about his investigation of Mr. Ghomeshi and in doing so tarnishing the CBC's image.

None of the claims in Mr. Spencer's lawsuit or the CBC's defence have been proved in court.

Mr. Ghomeshi, who had been the host of the arts and culture radio show Q, was the subject of internal complaints of sexual harassment by female employees and of aggressive and offensive behaviour from both sexes.

A CBC-commissioned report by employment lawyer Janice Rubin found that Mr. Ghomeshi had consistently breached the CBC's behavioural standard and that management knew or should have known about it and failed to take steps to ensure that its workplace was free of abusive and disrespectful conduct.

Mr. Spencer and another executive, Chris Boyce, were terminated by the CBC when the report was released in April, 2015.

By that time, CBC had already fired Mr. Ghomeshi. Toronto police charged him with several counts of sexual assault involving three women outside the CBC and one CBC employee. He was acquitted on the charges that did not involve the CBC; the charge involving the CBC employee was withdrawn when he apologized and signed a peace bond promising to stay away from her.

Mr. Spencer, who began his 11-year career at the CBC as an editorial assistant and sportswriter, earned $260,000 a year in salary, bonus and benefits as human resources director. He says his hiring as human resources head in 2013 was unusual, in that his background had not been in that department. He says he got the job in part because he was popular with CBC employees and because he was experienced in the business of broadcasting.

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In June, 2014, he says, he was brought into the Ghomeshi affair, after news reporters asked the CBC questions about the radio host. He says he had an excellent work record as a loyal employee, having led a crisis team negotiating for the release of journalist Mellissa Fung, who was kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2008. "It was an incredibly stressful time, and for 28 days, Spencer literally lived and slept at the CBC building in Toronto," his court filing says.

Mr. Spencer says the CBC-TV investigative program the fifth estate was wrong when it reported that no investigation had taken place at the CBC into the Ghomeshi affair. And he says the CBC did not take any steps to inform him of concerns about how he was handling the Ghomeshi investigation.

But the CBC says Mr. Spencer failed to carry out appropriate investigations, deliberately misled the CBC about the concerns of two CBC employees, failed to follow up on those concerns by seeking out witnesses and failed to supervise the investigation appropriately, leaving it to managers who lacked investigative training.

"The allegations made against Ghomeshi were extremely sensitive and distressing, and were taken seriously by CBC," the broadcaster says in its legal filing, adding that Mr. Spencer's actions in misleading management "resulted in serious harm to CBC" in its public reputation and its relationship with the government.

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