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Leduc fire chief resigns after sexual harassment, bullying lawsuit filed against city

Click to play video: 'Leduc fire chief resigns after sexual harassment, bullying lawsuit filed against city' Leduc fire chief resigns after sexual harassment, bullying lawsuit filed against city
City of Leduc fire Chief George Clancy has resigned in the wake of a lawsuit against the city, alleging harassment and assault. Sarah Komadina reports – Mar 18, 2022

Leduc fire Chief George Clancy has abruptly resigned, Global News has learned, shortly after Global approached him and the City of Leduc about his conduct during an investigation into alleged sexual harassment and intimidation of female firefighters within the department.

The Global News investigation obtained an Alberta Health Services report that determined an emergency medical services employee had improperly disclosed private medical information of one of the female complainants to Clancy.

Last week, Global News revealed that two female firefighters, Christa Steele and Mindy Smith, have launched a proposed class-action lawsuit against the City of Leduc.

In their statement of claim, the women allege they endured many years of sexist abuse and harassment from coworkers, sometimes escalating to sexual assault. The lawsuit, which lists the city as the sole defendant, does not identify alleged abusers by name.

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The allegations date between 2004 and 2021. Clancy is not accused of assault, abuse or harassment. But he has been the chief in charge of the department since 2014.

None of the allegations from the women’s lawsuit has been proven in court. The city has not yet filed a statement of defence.

Both Clancy and a spokesperson for the City of Leduc declined interview requests, saying they could not comment as the matter is before the courts.

Clancy’s email response to an interview request, sent at 12:25 p.m. Friday, contained a signature identifying him as fire chief and director of emergency management.

But in an email sent at 1:03 p.m. to Leduc fire department staff, he announced his resignation.

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“It is with a heavy heart that I must share with you my decision to leave our services following 31 years of service to this great community,” he wrote.

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“This is a very difficult decision for me to make and one that I need to do out of respect for my health.”

Read more: Behind the bay doors: Leduc firefighters sue for harassment, assault

City spokesperson Karen Yake confirmed later on Friday afternoon that “George has made a personal decision to step away from the City of Leduc.” Former deputy chief of operations Broderick Moore is now leading the department.

In an interview Friday, Steele called Clancy’s resignation “a step in the right direction,” but said he is only one person in a workplace rife with sexist abuse.

“It is not going to solve anything,” Steele said.

AHS says female firefighter’s health information improperly disclosed to chief

The lawsuit alleges Steele and Smith repeatedly complained to the city and management within the department, but nothing was done.

As an acting platoon captain, Smith was often the only woman present at meetings of senior officers, where they often disparaged female firefighters, the lawsuit claims.

“Ms. Smith repeatedly heard the chief and other officers making derogatory comments about other female firefighters, including Ms. Steele,” it states.

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“This included discussions of how to manufacture a justifiable reason to terminate Ms. Steele despite her satisfactory performance as a firefighter and (emergency medical technician).”

The lawsuit does not make any sexual assault allegations against Clancy.

On Nov. 29, 2021, months after a third-party firm – Veritas Solutions – began an investigation into the women’s allegations, Smith received a letter from Alberta Health Services (AHS).

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Leduc firefighter says she endured sexual harassment to keep doing job she loved: ‘It becomes your whole life’ – Mar 9, 2022

An AHS manager told her there was “improper disclosure of your health information by the EMS practitioner after attending you on or around January 29, 2020 to the chief.”

AHS also told her that her private health information had been improperly accessed three other times: on Dec. 24, 2020, June 9, 2021, and July 27, 2021.

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The lawsuit alleges “this was done in an attempt to secure information to silence and retaliate against Ms. Smith for her efforts to expose the harassment, discrimination, and sexual assaults at the fire department.”

Said Smith in an interview: “It just feels like I have no privacy or anything. …

She said she filed a complaint to the city’s human resources department, but “they told me it was operational oversight – that they could do that.”

She has filed a complaint to Alberta’s privacy commissioner, which is investigating.

Chief posted memes the women viewed as harassing

Global News has also obtained numerous memes Clancy posted on his personal Facebook page in 2021.

Both Steele and Smith said the memes, which coworkers shared with them, clearly targeted them and were related to their complaints.

Clancy posted the memes shortly after the independent investigation began and continued during the months-long investigation.

A meme posted to Leduc fire Chief George Clancy’s Facebook page on August 10, 2021. Supplied to Global News

One of them states, “Don’t waste your time on revenge, the person who hurts you will eventually face their karma.”

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Another, liked on Facebook by several Leduc firefighters, says, “Your character will outweigh any lie told about you. Those that know you, know you.”

A meme posted to Leduc fire Chief George Clancy’s Facebook page on July 10, 2021. Supplied to Global News

In an interview, Smith told Global News that these “were all very different memes from the leadership memes that he normally posts.

“They were personal. They felt personal.”

Steele said she viewed the memes as “intimidating and threatening” and that Clancy was clearly “sending a message.”

Fire chief defends work environment he created

Clancy, however, in his resignation email, said he was proud of the work environment he had created at Leduc Fire Services.

“Over the last seven years, I’ve set out to successfully create an environment that is diverse and inclusive, which happens naturally through the strong recruitment practices that were deemed fair and equitable for all individuals that apply,” he wrote.

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“I have preached the importance of why a diverse and inclusive team is required in today’s fire services, and the benefits it provides to those who serve.

“Because of you and your service, I can honestly say that the department I inherited seven years ago has achieved this goal.”

The city received the third-party investigation reports in December and January.

Steele said she understands it would take time for the City of Leduc to review the reports, but she said after years of inaction, the city was finally forced to address the problem.

“I do think that they weren’t willing to take responsibility for this until the media put pressure on them.”

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