TORONTO – The CEO of CIBC sent a note to all employees Wednesday, reiterating the company’s non-tolerance for workplace harassment after a former worker filed a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the bank and a former executive director that alleges she was sexually assaulted and harassed.
Diane Vivares, a former associate in the bank’s equity markets group, is seeking more than $1 million in damages from CIBC World Markets and Kevin Carter, a former executive director at the bank.
In a lawsuit filed with the Ontario Superior Court in December, about two months after she was let go, Vivares alleges Carter sexually assaulted her at a company Christmas party in 2007 by shoving his hand down her skirt twice.
Carter denies the allegations in his statement of defence, saying he had little to no interaction with her at the party.
Vivares claims the bank also failed to protect her from future instances of sexual harassment, instead allowing a “sexually poisoned and toxic work environment” to develop.
In one alleged incident in 2014, Vivares claims that a junior trader approached her and showed her a pornographic picture of his girlfriend’s vagina on his phone.
The following year, a sexually explicit note was left on Vivares’ desk, her statement of claim alleges.
Vivares claims that senior management at the bank were aware of the alleged sexual harassment and assault but did not investigate the incidents or do anything to address the behaviour taking place on the trading floor.
She says in the lawsuit she did not report the incidents to human resources because she was afraid of losing her job, which she needed to support her parents and her daughter.
CIBC denies the allegations, none of which have been proven in court, in its statement of defence.
“CIBC took all reasonable steps to provide Vivares with a work environment that was free from harassment, discrimination, and/or bullying,” the statement of defence reads.
The bank says in its statement of defence that Vivares did not report the alleged incidents, despite the fact that the company has made numerous resources available, including an ethics hotline for employees who don’t feel comfortable reporting an incident to their manager.
The lawsuit came to light following a report Wednesday in the Globe and Mail.
CIBC says in a statement that some of the allegations date back nearly a decade and that many of the individuals allegedly involved are no longer employed by the company.
The bank also says it only learned of the allegations when Vivares filed her lawsuit.
“Whenever any harassment issue is raised through our confidential hotline or any other avenue of escalation we investigate thoroughly and take disciplinary action, including termination, if the allegations are proven,” CIBC said in an email.
In his note to all of the company’s employees Wednesday, CEO Victor Dodig says he can’t discuss the specifics of the case for privacy reasons, but adds that any kind of harassment, discrimination or bullying will not be tolerated in the workplace.
Dodig says the evolution of the company’s culture over the past year and a half is one of the things he is most proud of.
“Is our work done? Absolutely not,” Dodig says. “Like most organizations, we need to do more and we will do more. You have my word on this.”
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