2019-05-08

Bayview principal bullied and tracked female colleague



  • <p>CKBW photo</p><p>Bayview Community School in Mahone Bay.</p>

Story by BRITTANY WENTZELL

Edited by Charles Mandel and Ed Halverson

An independent investigation by law firm McInnes Cooper into Bayview Community School's principal found he bullied, harassed, and tracked a female colleague.

Lamar Eason violated the South Shore Regional Centre for Education (SSRCE)'s Respectful Workplace Policy multiple times, according to documents obtained by CKBW Radio.

We reached out to Eason for comment on this story but he did not respond. We also reached out to Deputy Education Minister Cathy Montreuil, who declined to comment.

Numerous documents obtained by CKBW, including the conclusion of an independent investigation into Eason's behaviour, show he kept a list of Pentz Elementary School principal Rebecca Smart's movements and spread salacious rumours about her.

According to the documents, Smart is one of several women who have filed a complaint against Eason.

Smart filed a formal complaint on Oct. 11, 2018. Earlier that fall, she submitted a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) about herself. Smart received the FOI package about a week before she filed the formal complaint. It included dozens of emails Eason sent about her.

Subsequently, Eason was placed on administrative leave Nov. 5, 2018 for three weeks. SSRCE didn't inform parents Eason had been taken off the job or why, which sparked confusion among parents and an outcry from Eason's supporters. SSRCE also failed to explain why Eason was returned to work.

SSRCE brought in Halifax law firm McInnes Cooper to investigate Smart's complaint. The results of that investigation were filed Jan. 11, 2019.

McInnes Cooper concluded:

- Eason violated Smart's privacy through comments made to other staff members that discredited her and furthered unsubstantiated rumours and claims regarding her personal life.

- He circulated a list to a colleague that inferred a romantic relationship between Smart and former SSRCE executive director Scott Milner that tracked the whereabouts of her and her family.

- Eason misrepresented Smart to parents of students at her school, when he misinformed them over her attempts to find a substitute teacher for one of the self-identified students at Pentz.

- Eason undermined Smart's position as principal to parents and administration by questioning the leadership at her school because she took time off for medical leave and Professional Development.

In McInnes Cooper's findings, the investigators noted issues with Eason's credibility.

According to the conclusion, Eason told investigators he didn't share or propagate rumours about Milner or Smart, however, they found that inconsistent with "more credible evidence" including witness testimony, and notes from a meeting between Milner and Montreuil.

"We conclude that the behaviour of (Eason) toward (Smart) constitutes workplace bullying and or/harassment under the Policy. We have reviewed compelling objective evidence that demonstrates that (Eason) propagated salacious rumours about (Smart) on a number of occasions. The evidence indicates that the Respondent did this in a bid to undermine the position of both (Smart and Milner)," reads the conclusion.

According to several news articles, Eason and his supporters took issue with Smart's complaint being submitted beyond the 90 day filing period.

However, according to the SSRCE's Respectful Workplace Policy, complaints can be filed after a longer period when there are exceptional circumstances.

Emails in Smart's FOI package show that while Eason was still Race Relations, Cross-Cultural Understanding and Human Rights Coordinator (RCH) in 2018, he kept a list tracking Smart and her family's movements.

Eason updated and sent the list to himself several times between March and May 2018. It noted when Smart interacted with Milner, and the times Eason perceived she received preferential treatment. Eason also emailed the list to another SSRCE employee who lives in the same community as the Smarts.

In her complaint, Smart describes the list as being full of "half-truths that have been twisted, and blatant lies." She called the accusation of an affair between her and Milner "slanderous."

"He reported on events I attended with my children. I am deeply disturbed to learn that my movements with my family are being tracked, recorded, and distributed – through work email, and at times, during work hours," the complaint reads.

In her complaint, Smart expressed concern over breaches of confidentiality.

"My understanding is that as an employee of SSRCE, and at the time as a (Nova Scotia Teachers Union) member, my personnel information was confidential. How, then does Mr. Eason know who had supervision reports completed and who has not? How does he know who was on the interview panel involved in an interview I had for the Principalship for Dr. J.C. Wickwire in Spring of 2017?" reads the complaint.

McInnes Cooper's conclusion described Eason's behaviour as "undermining" Smart's position as principal at Pentz.

For example, after he requested Smart hire a specific substitute teacher, he told parents she had not yet tried to hire the teacher, despite emails showing she had and that she followed up with him two days prior.

According to the emails, Smart and Eason, disagreed on how to handle a situation with a student at Pentz throughout the 2017-18 school year. Smart first sent an email highlighting some of her concerns and then initiated an informal mediation session with Eason in early 2018.

"I entered both actions in good faith, and his harassment and bullying toward me escalated in retaliation," she says in the complaint.

Paul Ash, who became SSRCE's current executive director in February, says he can't comment on the complaints due to their policy around confidentiality and Human Resources matters. He says he instructed Eason not to comment.

"We've had this conversation with all of our principals as it relates to HR and privacy ... that they're not to make any public comments or speak to the media," says Ash.

According to SSRCE policy, when a complaint is made, all parties must keep matters confidential.

However, Eason spoke to the media in a Jan. 5, 2019 article by the Halifax Examiner, where he told journalist Stephen Kimber his suspension was not due to a gender or sexual harassment issue and instead pointed to his work as RCH.

"People don't like to talk about race, culture, bias," Eason told the Examiner. "Doing your job can lead to questioning the people employing you. Understandably people get defensive."

In late November, Bayview vice-principal Craig Pottie revealed to parents via email that Eason was placed on leave due to a colleague's complaint. In a school-wide email sent to staff Nov. 16, he also commented on the situation, saying "it really is apparent that the education of students is secondary to many adults in the system and in government, but certainly not to the adults who do this essential work."

After Eason was put off work, parents at Bayview submitted FOIs looking for information on Smart, Milner, and events that occurred at Pentz in May 2018. The parameters of their FOI were revealed to the Halifax Examiner, which published Smart's name in the Jan. 5 piece.

They also put together a petition and a Facebook group, demanding Eason's reinstatement. Several parents spoke out in the media on his behalf.

Smart declined to be interviewed for this story, citing the SSRCE's policies around confidentiality, however, she and her husband, Liverpool Regional High School teacher Nathan Smart, provided CKBW with statements.

"The insinuation, that as a female leader, I needed favours from a male colleague to succeed isn't only insulting to me – it is an insult to everyone. We need to address harmful narratives like this that damage progress that has been made toward gender equity. My children deserve and need a mother that challenges such harmful aspersions; no matter the pressures and negative backlash," said Smart in her statement.

Her husband's statement reads:

"This has been a very trying year for both personal and professional reasons. It is very distressing that members of the community have chosen to believe baseless, salacious rumours. We have paid a tremendous personal price because of these attacks on our family's privacy and confidentiality. We will never be able to take back the time lost with our loved ones while defending ourselves from these malicious accusations.

Whenever we go to work, a community event, or an activity with our children, we are confronted with people whom we know have accepted these lies, and in some cases contributed to them. We want our children to have lived where private Facebook groups, gossip columns, and secret meetings do not judge where they go, what they do, and whom they're friends with."

According to documents obtained by CKBW, three female colleagues have filed complaints against Eason. The parents of a student also filed a formal complaint against Eason in August 2018, stemming from the handling of an incident in June 2018, involving multiple SSRCE staff.

Ash says none of the complaints were of a sexual nature.

"We would never make any decisions that would put our students and our staff in a compromised position or a place of risk," he says.

CKBW reached out to one complainant, who did not wish to be named out of fear of reprisal. She alleges Eason harassed and belittled her when he was her supervisor. She says he constantly popped in on her unexpectedly at work and sent her texts and emails late at night about work issues.

"It's mind boggling how that treatment plays with your head," she says.

The woman alleges Eason refused to let her leave school to put her ailing dog down. Instead, she took the dog to the vet on her lunch break and returned to work. Later, Eason checked in on her at school and paged her to the main office. The woman didn't hear the page and Eason believed she had left work against his instructions. As punishment, she says he attempted to revoke three days she booked off for her wedding and wrote an email demanding an account of her whereabouts the entire day.

She alleges his actions over several months, coupled with a traumatic family event, drove her to take stress leave. When she returned, her psychiatrist wrote a letter insisting a temporary supervisor be put in place for her. She says SSRCE declined, sparking her resignation in November, 2017.

When she quit, the woman wrote a letter to Human Resources, outlining the reasons for her resignation and her issues with Eason. She later discovered the letter was never forwarded to then superintendent Scott Milner and sent it directly to him in Aug. 2018.

Although she doesn't wish to be named, she says she wants people to know Smart isn't the only one who has filed a complaint against Eason. "I didn't fight like Rebecca did."

CKBW obtained copies of her psychiatrist's note, his follow up letter saying she could not return, her resignation letter, as well as her follow up note to Milner asking if anyone had looked into the issues she raised in her resignation letter.

Milner, who is now the executive director of the Common Services Bureau with the Department of Education, declined comment, saying the situation is an HR matter.

It's unclear if any action has been taken against Eason or if all of the complaints have been investigated. Eason is still principal at Bayview.

With files from LighthouseNow.

Brittany Wentzell is a News Anchor/Reporter at CKBW Radio, Ed Halverson is the News Director at CKBW Radio and Charles Mandel is the Editor at the LighthouseNow Progress Bulletin.

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