Two former employees of Algerian Consulate in Montreal sue for workplace harassment

MONTREAL — Two former cleaning employees of the Algerian Consulate in Montreal are suing the government of Algeria and its Foreign Affairs Department for about $450,000 in damages and unpaid wages.

Marisa Amaya, 65, and Elida Rivera Lopez, 70, say their experience working at the consulate has left them "psychologically and emotionally broken."

"My mental health got so bad that at one point, I thought about jumping in front of a metro …. My psychologist told me I was burned out," Amaya said in an interview on Friday alongside Rivera Lopez.

The two women are accusing Algerian Consul General Noureddine Meriem and his wife of abuse of power and of humiliating and harassing them on the job.

Amaya was hired in 2008, and Rivera Lopez in 2014. The women said that they were responsible for cleaning not only the consulate in downtown Montreal but also Meriem's personal residence, located in another part of the city.

"All I did was cry. I did not want to eat. I did not want to do anything. I would come into their home and greet him, and he would look away and ignore me," Rivera Lopez said.

The women filed separate lawsuits in August, describing the consulate as a "toxic" work environment that led both of them to take sick leave in 2021. The lawsuits state that the women were victims of "psychological violence" and "vexatious behaviour" within the Algerian Consulate.

"This sick leave and the deterioration of the plaintiff's mental health were directly caused by the toxic working conditions, humiliation and abuse of power suffered by the plaintiff, of which she was a victim of the Consul General of Algeria in Montreal and his wife."

The lawsuits, however, don't include specific details of the alleged harassment and humiliation that Amaya and Rivera Lopez claim to have suffered working at the consulate.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

In a written statement, the consulate on Friday said, "We would like to categorically deny the unfounded and defamatory allegations made by the two complainants against our institution."

"The Consulate General accords a great importance to the well-being of its employees. We all work in a climate of respect for the rights and dignity of everyone, as some thirty employees working in our institution can testify," the consulate said.

The women said Friday that the lawyer they hired to file the lawsuit dropped them as clients earlier in the week after they went public with their allegations to Le Journal de Montréal newspaper. The women say they are looking for a new lawyer and continuing their lawsuits.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2023.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Marisela Amador, The Canadian Press