‘Historic’ settlement in class-action lawsuit by female firefighters in Leduc

A settlement has been reached in a class action lawsuit filed against the City of Leduc. Laura Krause has the details.

By Laura Krause

A class-action lawsuit alleging systemic discrimination and harassment of female firefighters has reached a settlement with the City of Leduc.

It is the first settlement for workplace misconduct including a municipality or firehall in Canadian history.

“I’m pleased with all of the hard work everybody has done to get to this spot,” said Christa Steele, a former Leduc firefighter and plaintiff in the lawsuit. “This is momentous, this is historic across Canada, but there is still lots of work.

“This is just the beginning of accountability so there is still a lot of work to be done.”

The lawsuit alleged Steele dealt with sexual harassment and bullying in multiple instances, and that superiors did nothing to put an end to it. Steele says she wants to bring the discrimination and sexual harassment she experienced to light.

“I know for a fact that this isn’t just happening in our little department,” said Steele. “It’s happening across Alberta, and it’s happening across Canada. It’s happening to women everywhere.

“And I know this because I’ve been contacted by them. So we really want to get he word out that standing together, putting our voices out, and doing it nationally maybe can make a difference.”

Steele was part of the class action filed against Leduc in February 2022. Fellow female firefighter Mindy Smith was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Steele says the decision to come forward in the first place was a difficult one.

“For anyone who works in EMS and Fire, you do it because it’s a passion, it’s your calling, and it becomes a part of your identity,” she said. “And when you step forward, all of a sudden you are a wave-maker, you are a troublemaker, and things become harder for you. But it’s time that we stat standing together, having a unified voice, and start saying ‘these boys clubs, these old policies that are being followed, it needs to stop.’

“At some point you have to say ‘enough is enough.’”

Christa Steele, a former Leduc firefighter and plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit, in March 2022. (CityNews)

The terms of this settlement include:

  • Any woman who worked at the City of Leduc over the past 20 years is eligible to participate. They could receive anywhere between $10,000 and $285,000;
  • A confidential claim process that will provide a safe way for women to come forward;
  • A public apology from the mayor of Leduc and a requirement that Leduc take necessary steps to ensure that no retaliation occurs against women who make a claim.

“We reached a historic monetary amount, and that says a lot because there is a really big gap between the genders of what people get rewarded,” said Steele. “So again this is historic across Canada. What we got for these ladies is going to help make them feel whole. It’s going to help the psychologically, it’s going to help their families, whatever they need.”

Robert Martz, the lead lawyer on the case with the BD&P law firm, says his clients are pleased with the settlement – the highest per-person payout for workplace misconduct in Canada.

“From the beginning, Ms. Steele and Ms. Smith wanted to create change and get compensation for the harm that these women had suffered in Leduc, and this settlement accomplishes that through the compensation, which is higher than we’ve seen in other cases, and through the non-monetary remedies, which requires the city to take steps to ensure that there is a safe workplace for women,” he said.

Martz says the settlement is also about accountability and changing things in the future.

“I think it shows that there will be accountability if fire halls and cities don’t deal with these types of issues, and there is an avenue to bring these claims forward and succeed on them. So we really hope it does cause a change in culture, and improve things going forward.”

Those words were echoed by Steele.

“We’re hoping this is going to open eyes across Canada to strengthen your policies instead of putting posters on walls,” she said. “Really educating your crews as to what’s right and wrong. Have whistleblower policies in place so that women feel safe coming forward if something had happened.”

Derek Prohar, the Leduc city manager, says the city’s gaze is on the future as well.

“Regretfully, we cannot undo the harm of the sexual misconduct that was experienced, but we are committed to learning from the past to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future,” Prohar said in a statement.

“Healing will take time. Rebuilding trust will take time. We will do the necessary work and engage in ongoing conversations to ensure that our city is a place where everyone feels safe, respected, and valued.

“In times like these, it is vital that we come together as a community, supporting one another and working collectively to heal and rebuild trust. Together, we will strive to create an environment that not only reflects the values we hold dear but also safeguards the dignity and well-being of every individual.”

A hearing for the Court of King’s Bench to approve the settlement is scheduled for July.

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