B.C. university bullying and harassment investigation substantiates at least 10 allegations

B.C. university bullying and harassment investigation substantiates at least 10 allegations

UPDATE — Jan. 19, 2023: Thompson Rivers University has confirmed that Matt Milovick, vice-president of finance and administration, has been cleared of all allegations relating to its investigation into bullying and harassment at the university.

An investigation into bullying and harassment claims involving two senior leaders at Thompson Rivers University has found that some allegations were valid, according to a report released by the Kamloops institution on Tuesday.

The university says of the 55 complaints involving eight people who were investigated, 10 were substantiated. Investigators were unable to make findings on at least four allegations, according to the report, which has been heavily redacted.

Investigators were unable to make a finding for four of the 45 unsubstantiated allegations, because either the matter had previously been reviewed, allegations were “too general,” or the parties could not provide enough information.

According to TRU, complaints first surfaced in February 2021, prompting the university to obtain legal counsel.

CBC News later learned that several current and former staff and faculty members came forward with allegations of anti-Indigenous racism and bullying, and one was also accused of sexual harassment.

“Its been a very difficult period for TRU,” the university’s president Brett Fairbairn said, speaking Wednesday on Daybreak Kamloops.

“The university has not had knowledge until very recently of what the complaints were, what the allegations were or who the complainants were, so in that environment, with an absence of information, there has been a lot of upset people,” he added.

Matt Milovick, the vice-president of finance and administration, and his subordinate Larry Phillips, then-assistant vice-president of people and culture, were accused of fostering a toxic workplace, according to documents obtained by CBC News and interviews with more than a dozen people in 2021.

By fall, a full investigation had begun.

Since then, Phillips has left the university. Milovick remains in his role.

On Thursday, TRU confirmed Milovick had been cleared on all allegations.

Larry Phillips, left, was assistant vice-president of people and culture at Thompson Rivers University. His boss Matt Milovick, right, is the university’s vice president of finance and administration. (Thompson Rivers University/Twitter and TRU.ca)

On Tuesday, the university released a report addressing the allegations, finding that some were substantiated. At the time, TRU did not name anyone, citing privacy and legal concerns.

“This is not a public inquiry. These matters involve individuals and issues related to their employment. As such, the report and findings are protected. These are considered private employment matters by law and will be treated as such,” TRU board chair Marilyn McLean said in a statement.

Based on information previously shared by a number of complainants willing to talk to CBC, 22 allegations were made against one man, and 33 were made against another.

The report found that 10 of the allegations against one individual who received 33 complaints that were investigated were substantiated, and none of the allegations against the other individual were.

In a statement to CBC on Wednesday, Milovick said he had been “fully exonerated” in the investigation.

“I have been advised by my lawyer that the policy precludes comment by me concerning the substance at this time.”

TRU released a statement on Thursday confirming Milovick was cleared of all allegations and affirmed its support for the senior leader.

“I look forward to continuing to work with [Matt Milovick] in his current capacity,” Fairbairn said in the statement.

Joining Fairbairn on Daybreak Kamloopson Wednesday, McLean said the investigation was trauma-informed and that every effort was made to ensure complainants were not triggered or re-traumatized by coming forward.

Thompson Rivers University president Brett Fairbairn (left) and chair of the TRU board of governors Marilyn McLean outside the CBC studios in Kamloops, B.C. on Wednesday. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC )

McLean said the investigation, which lasted more than a year, cost the university more than $1 million in legal fees.

“We are satisfied with the thoroughness of the report,” said McLean. “A million dollars is a lot of money and I believe it was well spent. I believe we are in a better place as a result of the courageous complainants that came forward.”

A total of 34 witnesses were interviewed, and investigators reviewed “hundreds” of documents, including emails, media reports, social media posts and text messages, TRU said.

“I’m confident that investigators took the time they needed to ensure a comprehensive result,” she said.

Faculty member Jenna Woodrow, who is also chair of the TRU Faculty Association equity committee, said the complainants who came forward should be celebrated for their efforts to make the university a better workplace for all.

“Their bravery, their resourcefulness came through,” she said.

Fairbairn said in the wake of what has happened, the university is ramping up staff workshops and training and will be engaging faculty and staff to update the institution’s respectful workplace and harassment policy, which is coming up for review.

He emphasized that the university has several ways for people to come forward to voice concerns and complaints and that work needs to be done to make sure all TRU employees know how those processes work and that they will not be cross-examined or confronted when doing so.

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