SIMONA CHIOSE |The Globe and Mail
A facilities supervisor who was found by McMaster University to be the subject of several sexual-harassment complaints by female cleaners at the school is back at work after an assault charge was withdrawn following the death of the complainant who brought the case to light.
Uzodinma (Godson) Okwulehie, who was a night-shift supervisor, came back to work approximately a week ago but is not managing any employees, the university said.
An internal investigation conducted by McMaster last spring found that cleaners at the school had alleged that Mr. Okwulehie had sexually harassed them many times, with one complaint in his file dating back to 2000. The investigation followed a report by cleaner Ljubica Savic alleging that he had assaulted her. The report recommended that the man be moved to working days while a full investigation was conducted. McMaster did investigate further but did not change his shift. Mr. Okwulehie took a leave in October 2014.
“We want to make sure that the university and the students are going to feel safe and that the university is going to protect and follow the health and safety act and their own harassment policy,” said Peter Foulds, director of operations for the Building Union of Canada, which represents some of the university’s cleaning staff. The union wants the provincial labour relations board to intervene.
The case comes as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is expected to release this week a province-wide strategy on sexual violence and harassment that will cover policies at universities and colleges. McMaster’s delay in addressing the complaints and its own internal inquiry raise questions about how postsecondary institutions can be held accountable for following policies they already have in place.
“That has been something to learn for the university, that it’s important to look holistically. Each individual case is also looked at individually, but it is incumbent that a much bigger picture is put on top of some of these instances,” said Andrea Farquhar, the assistant vice-president of public and government relations at the university.
In testimony she gave a justice of the peace after she decided to pursue a charge, Ms. Savic said that Mr. Okwulehie grabbed and dragged her by the arm during a night shift in March of last year.
“When he grabbed my arm, he pulled me back. I almost lost my balance. He bruised my arm so badly I had imprints of his three fingers on my arm,” she said through an interpreter.
None of the allegations were proven in court. Mr. Okwulehie told local media he did not assault Ms. Savic and he denied the claims made by other cleaners. Neither he nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment.
McMaster’s initial inquiry concluded if the allegations were true it would indicate that “Godson has engaged in a pattern of vexatious behaviour that is unwanted, intimidating, possibly fear-inducing, and is sometimes of a sexual nature. … It is possible that this alleged harassing behaviour, over time, has the potential to create serious psychological harm for employees reporting to Godson.”
Ms. Savic died from cancer in January. She was 56.
The union launched a complaint with the Ministry of Labour after it became aware of the internal report. A ministry inspector visited the school in November and concluded that McMaster had policies to deal with workplace violence and no further action was required by the government. On Friday, the union began an appeal of that decision. Earlier this year, it concluded a first collective agreement with the university to represent the cleaners.
“Our main concern is that according to their own reports, this person has a lengthy history of misconduct within a supervisory role, and they are well aware of that, yet they took no action to protect the workers,” Mr. Foulds said.