TORONTO RADIO STATION JAZZ.FM91 FACES THIRD LAWSUIT

Another former employee of JAZZ.FM91 has filed suit against the station, bringing to three the number of legal cases the troubled Toronto-based not-for-profit is facing after its former CEO stepped down last May in the wake of allegations of workplace bullying and sexual harassment.

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Another former employee of JAZZ.FM91 has filed suit against the station, bringing to three the number of legal cases the troubled Toronto-based not-for-profit is facing after its former CEO stepped down last May in the wake of allegations of workplace bullying and sexual harassment.

Glenn Knight is asking the courts for a judgement of $25,000, claiming damages for breach of contract; aggravated mental distress, and/or punitive damages; and other special damages. Mr. Knight worked at the station for almost six years, including most recently in a one-year stint as program director that ended in August.

The suit, which comes on the heels of a $420,000 wrongful-dismissal claim by former morning host Garvia Bailey and amid an effort by disenchanted members to overhaul the board, could further derail attempts by the listener-supported station to push past the workplace controversy.

According to his statement of claim, filed in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice small-claims court Nov. 6, Mr. Knight told station management last March that he intended to leave, “due to concerns about an increasingly toxic work environment.”

The board had just received a letter from 13 then-current and former employees alleging “ongoing workplace harassment, sexual harassment, bullying and general mismanagement of the station” by its then-CEO, Ross Porter. The station asked Mr. Knight to stay on temporarily, to ensure continuity while it brought in an independent investigator to probe the allegations. It increased his remuneration and promised him severance payments equivalent to 16.5 weeks of salary, almost $24,000, as outlined in a Stay Agreement.

(After the investigation, Mr. Porter stepped down from his position as CEO. He was granted the new title of president emeritus and was kept on as host of his long-running Saturday morning show. Mr. Porter told The Globe and Mail that the changes were “not related to the investigation.”)

Toward the end of his temporary employment, however, Mr. Knight alleges that the station informed him it had unilaterally changed the terms and conditions of the Stay Agreement, under which he would receive severance payments. He says he rejected the change, and continued to work at the station until Aug. 31.

Nevertheless, he alleges that his weekly severance payments stopped five weeks after he left his job, approximately 11.5 weeks earlier than had been outlined under the original agreement.

Mr. Knight is asking for damages for breach of contract equivalent to the severance amount that he alleges he is still owed. He adds that “his treatment at the hands of JAZZ.FM was high-handed, wrongful, and callous,” and that, due to the station’s “misconduct,” he “has suffered mental distress, frustration, and a further inability to properly sleep and concentrate.”

(The claim is filed in the name of Glenn Yetman, who uses Knight as a stage name.)

His claim of ill treatment by management echoes Ms. Bailey, who filed a wrongful dismissal suit in late August, after the station removed her from her morning show in April and offered her a low-profile late-night slot instead. She alleges that the move was related to her being a part of the group – known as The Collective – that complained about the behaviour of Mr. Porter and other station managers. The station disputes Ms. Bailey’s allegations.

Mr. Knight’s statement of claim illustrates how the station’s management of the multiplying workplace crises also affected those who tried to stay out of the fractious dispute. E-mails included in Mr. Knight’s claim indicate that he requested and secured a clause ensuring the presence of a witness when he would “have dealings with staff or contractors who are sympathetic [to] or members of The Collective.” He also retained the right to “not directly be involved in the delivery of a decision which I strongly disagree with, such as the change in Garvia’s role.”

The station did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Thursday. Mr. Knight declined to comment.

The station, a registered charity, is facing a separate legal action by a group of disgruntled members who are asking the courts for relief in obtaining the e-mails of approximately 2,200 donor-members. The group, dubbed SaveJazzFM, hopes to use the information to lobby for an overhaul of the board, which the station is strongly resisting.

The two sides in that growing turf battle are set to square off in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice next month.

The station’s latest fundraising drive launched last weekend, with the goal of raising $350,000 from listeners.

By Simon Houpt | The Globe and Mail

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