Rick Chiarelli complainant sues city for $325K

·3 min read
Coun. Rick Chiarelli was found to have egregiously breached Ottawa's code of conduct last year in two separate investigations conducted by the integrity commissioner. (Kate Porter/CBC - image credit)
Coun. Rick Chiarelli was found to have egregiously breached Ottawa's code of conduct last year in two separate investigations conducted by the integrity commissioner. (Kate Porter/CBC - image credit)

One of the women who filed a formal complaint about Coun. Rick Chiarelli's behaviour is now suing the City of Ottawa for $325,000.

Stephanie Dobbs has identified herself as "Complainant No. 2" in Integrity Commissioner Robert Marleau's second report on the College ward councillor's conduct, which the commissioner described as "incomprehensible incidents of harassment."

A statement of claim filed Jan. 11, 2021 on her behalf charged that the city is "directly and vicariously liable … for the damages she has suffered."

Dobbs was hired by the College ward councillor but was formally a non-unionized employee of the city, working for him for about three years before going on medical leave in August 2018.

The statement lists a number of ways Dobbs said she was harassed by Chiarelli, which have been previously reported by CBC, including:

  • "Making "sexual and/or derogatory comments about the bodies of her and other female office staff."

  • Expecting that "female staff were to have men fawn over them to elicit volunteers."

  • Threatening to fire staffers and "make your life miserable, and make you unemployable."

According to the statement and the integrity commissioner's report, her job intervew with Chiarelli "involved inappropriate sexual innuendo" where he showed Dobbs "pictures of her he had captured from social media on his phone and [commented] on her body" and said "it looked like she was braless."

WATCH | Dobbs speaks to CBC in November 2020:

Chiarelli also pressed her to reveal her biggest secret, the claim said, saying it would gain his trust.

"She complied by divulging about abuse she had suffered in the past, information which she had previously not disclosed even to her family," according to the statement.

According to the court filings, Dobbs "became seriously ill, and even suicidal during the months of October and November 2017."

Chiarelli has denied all accusations against him and has gone to court to argue the integrity commissioner didn't have authority for this investigation.

Claim cites lack of protection

According to the claim filed by Dobbs' lawyer Todd Barney, the city failed in eight ways to provide an appropriate workplace environment for political staffers by, among other things, not ensuring a workplace "free of sexual discrimination, harassment and abuse, and the abuse of authority."

Stephanie Dobbs is Complainant No. 2 in the integrity commissioner's shocking report on Coun. Rick Chiarelli's conduct.
Stephanie Dobbs is Complainant No. 2 in the integrity commissioner's shocking report on Coun. Rick Chiarelli's conduct.(Richard Dufault)

The city also failed to "educate, train, supervise, appropriately monitor and discipline" councillors on issues of harassment and abuse of power, Dobbs' lawyer alleges.

The lawsuit, first reported by the Ottawa Citizen, requests compensation from the city for a loss of salary during the last term of council and beyond, a loss of earning capacity, costs for medical expenses and punitive damages.

"She continues to require psychological care, counselling and other assistance," according to the statement.

None of the claims against the city have been tested in court, nor has the city filed a statement of defence.

HR concerns

Dobbs' suit also blames the city for not having standard recruitment policies which "created and fostered the potential for an uncivil, disrespectful, toxic and poisoned work environment."

Many former staffers and job applicants told CBC that Chiarelli interviewed them outside normal working hours and in coffee shops and bars.

This behaviour "constituted a breach of a fundamental and implied term of the employment contract as aforesaid, and a repudiation of the entire employment relationship," the statement charges.

Last summer, council changed hiring policies in councillor offices to ensure a member of human resources or the clerk's office be present during interviews, which now must be held at a city facility.

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