Harassment lawsuit names University of Lethbridge, hockey coach and athletic director

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University of Lethbridge, hockey coach and athletic director named in harassment lawsuit
WATCH ABOVE: Four women are seeking more than $1 million in damages, alleging a pattern of bullying and harassment by University of Lethbridge women's hockey coach Michelle Janus – Aug 23, 2018

The Univeristy of Lethbridge and two of its employees are facing a civil lawsuit.

It’s been filed by former and current members of the women’s hockey team, alleging bullying and harassment against sport and recreation executive director Ken McInnes and the hockey team’s head coach, Michelle Janus.

The four women — Olivia Alexander, Alannah Jensen, Chelsea Kasprick and Brittney Sawyer — are named as plaintiffs in the suit.

They’re seeking more than $1 million in damages.

The statement of claim filed in Court of Queen’s Bench on Aug. 21 details an alleged pattern of bullying and harassment dating back to 2015.

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The claim alleges that on one occasion, players were asked by Janus and McInnes to vote on whether a teammate should be allowed to continue to play on the team because of a suicide attempt.

It’s also alleged players were subjected to a so-called fine jar. It alleges the fine jar meant teammates could be fined for things they did in their personal lives and for their sexual history, when it was only set up for breaking team rules.

The plaintiffs also detail an alleged pattern of verbal abuse by Janus.

One of the players says she was allegedly refused time away from two optional practices to celebrate Hanukkah, and another says she felt pressured to return from a shoulder injury early over fears of losing ice time.

The four plaintiffs also allege McInnes did not do enough when concerns first surfaced about Janus’ conduct.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

“The defendants harassed and bullied the plaintiffs by engaging in threatening and intimidating behaviours, not providing them proper care, calling them names and suggesting they were mentally unstable on a daily basis,” the statement of claim reads in part.

“I do not think that this is normal behaviour that should be condoned across Canada for elite coaches at a post-secondary institution of learning,” said Diann Castle, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the four women.

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“I don’t understand why the University of Lethbridge would continue to employ her and not mitigate their damages.”

The lawsuit follows a complaint filed by six players under the university’s harassment and discrimination policy.

Janus was found to be in violation of the policy and the university said it would be working with her to correct the harassment behaviour.

The University of Lethbridge issued a statement about the lawsuit on Thursday.

“The University of Lethbridge is aware that it has been named, along with two employees of the university, in a lawsuit concerning the Pronghorns women’s hockey team.  The lawsuit follows a complaint received in the spring of 2018 regarding the conduct of the coach of the women’s hockey team,” the statement reads.

“As this is an active lawsuit, the university will not provide any additional comments specific to the lawsuit. As has already been reported, the U of L immediately launched a comprehensive investigation on receiving the initial complaint. As recommended in the ensuing investigation report, the university announced a series of actions that would be undertaken to ensure an appropriate environment for its student athletes moving forward,” the statement goes on to say.

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“Many of the actions that were identified in the report have begun to be implemented. The women’s hockey coach has committed to the actions recommended in the report to ensure the continued growth and development of the women’s hockey program and to provide a positive experience for student athletes both in and out of the classroom.

“Additional activity includes the implementation of a leadership team with representation from student athletes, the coach and assistant coach and a member of the university’s Pronghorn Athletics staff.  As well, a new leadership development program is being created specifically for the women’s hockey team with the goal of players developing confidence in themselves as leaders and for all members of the team and coaching staff to fully understand team values and the ability to associate these values to all team initiatives.

“The University of Lethbridge strives to create a safe and welcoming environment for all of its students, staff and faculty. This foundational value continues to influence the institution’s actions, including the actions of all Pronghorn athletic teams.”

Global News reached out to Janus and McInnes for comment.

Janus has yet to respond and McInnes declined comment.

You can view the statement of claim in its entirety below. WARNING: This legal document contains some coarse and graphic language that some readers may find offensive.


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