The complaint, launched last summer, alleges the two parties upheld a “hostile and poisoned work environment” where discrimination and harassment based on race, sex and ability went unchecked.
The tribunal issued notice to both parties on Feb. 28 that the complaint would proceed.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision to take on the role of Representative Complainant in this case, but I believe was absolutely the right thing to do,” former Cloverdale Rodeo volunteer and contractor Laura Ballance said in a statement.
“I very much look forward to proceeding to the hearing so that the many witnesses can have an opportunity to testify, and the full magnitude of the abuses are brought forward, and the brave women who have come forward can have their day in court.”
The complaint, initiated in July 2021 by more than 20 former workers and volunteers, pertains to behaviour dating back to 2012. It includes the City of Surrey, because some municipal employees are appointed to Cloverdale Rodeo board.
The complaint claims both parties condoned and refused to address “hostile and demeaning” conduct by management and board members, which “disproportionately impacted women, racialized people and people with disabilities.”
“It also impacted those who were forced to witness this discriminatory conduct and work in the toxic environment it created,” according to lawyers at Allevato Quail and Roy, who represent the complainants.
The complaint argues that section 13 of the B.C. Human Rights Code, which protects against discrimination in employment and volunteer settings, was violated.
The City of Surrey’s Legal Services team said the municipality would not comment on the matter before the tribunal.
The Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition Association did not respond to an emailed request for comment by deadline, but in a July 25, 2021 statement after the complaint was launched, said it “takes these allegations very seriously.”
As a result of an early human resources investigation, that statement noted, its general manager has been removed, and a respectful workplace policy was developed that includes a process for anonymous complaints reporting.
“Throughout our history thousands of people, both young and old, have worked hard to make the Cloverdale Rodeo a proud community tradition,” said Rich Kitos, Cloverdale Rodeo vice-president of the Association at the time.
“We want to ensure those employees and volunteers experience a respectful and inclusive environment in which each one of them is acknowledged for their valuable contribution.”
Now that a notice of complaint has been issued to both Surrey and Cloverdale Rodeo, the two parties can agree to take part in mediation to try and resolve the complaint. If they do, they must communicate that preference by April 4.
If they don’t, they must file their responses to the complaint by April 4 or apply for it to be dismissed without a hearing.
The complainants have asked the tribunal to award them several “remedies,” including a declaration by the tribunal that both Cloverdale Rodeo and the City of Surrey breached the Human Rights Code, and an order that all management and board members undergo anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training.
They also want both parties to implement meaningful anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, training and complaint mechanisms, and provide monetary damages for “injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect for each affected worker and volunteer.” Monetary damages should also be awarded, they argue, to anyone who lost their employment because of breaches to the Human Rights Code.