The Court of King’s Bench has approved the settlement between the City of Leduc and former firefighters who have alleged years of sexual assault, misconduct and harassment at the Alberta municipality’s fire department.
The settlement was certified Tuesday afternoon.
The women named in the lawsuit, Christa Steele and Mindy Smith, have said they brought their complaints to higher-ups but that they were never acted on.
On June 21, both parties announced the lawsuit had been settled. A proposed settlement agreement was filed June 20 with the Court of King’s Bench for review.
On Tuesday, presiding Justice J. Price certified the class-action settlement. She said she would publish her written reasons for this decision later.
Lead lawyer for the women, Robert Martz with Burnet, Duckworth and Palmer LLP (BD&P), explained any female who is a current or former employee of the City of Leduc between Jan. 1, 2002 and July 4, 2023, and who also experienced discrimination, harassment or assault, can apply to be part of the class action.
Potential claimants have 12 months to file a claim, which is designed to be paper-based and confidential. Current and former city employees will be notified by mail and there will also be notifications and ads on social media.
The city said in its proposed settlement agreement that “the range of individual compensation for most class (action) members is between $10,000 and $95,000. Class members who experienced exceptional harm may be eligible for amounts up to $285,000.”
The total amount of the settlement is unknown at this time, Martz said, as it will depend on how many women come forward.
Martz said the proposed settlement sparked quite a response from other city employees, dozens filed forms or wrote letters of support. He read segments of those responses in court on Tuesday.
“I completely support this settlement,” he read to court. “The courage of the complainants is extraordinary.”
“I was an employee,” another letter read, “subjected to several incidents where I did not feel safe … I ended my employment.”
There were zero objections to the settlement, Martz told court.
Price said the reason for the lawsuit and settlement is to “provide compensation for sexual misconduct and resolve the claim.”
The female firefighters sought compensation for negligence, defamation and cited several sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including gender discrimination, sexual misconduct and sexual assault.
At the end of the court hearing, Martz thanked the women for coming forward.
“These women did what most people thought couldn’t be done,” he said. “Their determination and bravery is astonishing.”
The plaintiffs were in the courtroom Tuesday and cried and hugged each other when the justice confirmed the settlement.
“When we set out to bring to light the discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault happening at Leduc, it was so it would stop and those who are responsible for the years of abuse we faced would be held accountable,” Steele, a former firefighter, said on June 21.
The law firm that represented the firefighters said “this is the first settlement of a class action involving sexual misconduct and sexual assault in a fire department or municipality in Canada.”
The firefighters’ lawyers said the terms of the settlement include:
- Monetary compensation. Each member of the class-action lawsuit is eligible for between $10,000 and $285,000.
- Lengthy claimant eligibility time period. Any woman who worked at the City of Leduc over the past 20 years is eligible to participate in the class action.
- Confidential, non-adversarial and non-confrontational claims process meant to facilitate claimant participation and provide a safe way for women to come forward.
- Non-monetary remedies. A public apology from the mayor of Leduc and a requirement that Leduc take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that no retaliation occurs against women who participate in the class action or who make a claim.
“There’s an opportunity for women to participate in what we’ve called a restorative engagement process, where they can meet privately with leadership at Leduc to explain what’s happened and how things need to change or can change,” Martz explained.
“There’s also requirements for Leduc to consider implementing a whistle-blower policy, to make further changes to its respectful workplace policy that the plaintiffs have flagged.”
Martz said during Tuesday’s hearing that the non-monetary factors “took the longest to negotiate” and were determined over several months and dozens of draft settlements.
Global News asked the City of Leduc how it will pay for the monetary compensation aspect of the settlement.
A city spokesperson said: “The costs associated with the lawsuit will not impact residential or business taxes. The city has been working closely with our insurer on this settlement.”
Global News was also told that media would be notified when the mayor’s apology would occur.
“The date of the apology has not yet been determined,” the city spokesperson added on Tuesday. “Now that the settlement is approved, counsel for the two parties will begin to work out the details of implementation.”
In an updated statement posted online, Leduc City Manager Derek Prohar said: “This is a significant moment in the history of our city – to reflect on our past, show our support for those harmed and to commit to a better future.
“The settlement is a critical step towards accountability, healing, and the restoration of trust within our community.
“Regretfully, we cannot undo the harm of the sexual misconduct that was experienced, but we are committed to learning from the past to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future,” Prohar wrote.
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