Brandon University paid over $41,000 in legal fees over sexual harassment scandal

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Brandon University’s botched investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against a soccer coach not only harmed student athletes and tarnished the school’s reputation, but it also cost the post-secondary institute upwards of $41,000 in legal fees.

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Brandon University’s botched investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against a soccer coach not only harmed student athletes and tarnished the school’s reputation, but it also cost the post-secondary institute upwards of $41,000 in legal fees.

“It’s $41,000 too much,” said Christopher Schneider, a sociology professor at BU. “If they would’ve done (an investigation) right the first time, they wouldn’t have had to spend any money.”

That figure is only a starting point when it comes to financial losses related to the mishandling of complaints about Jesse Roziere, Schneider said, noting it does not include payouts to soccer players affected by the drawn-out process.

Last summer, a group of young women approached the Free Press with concerns their university was brushing off complaints about Roziere, now 30, and failing to protect them so they could continue representing the Bobcats.

The first student to report suggestive messages and sexual advances did so via email to the university’s athletic director, Russ Paddock, in November 2020.

The subsequent internal probe, released to athletes in May 2021, found Roziere had acted inappropriately with female students. Despite the findings, he was allowed to continue working under monitoring.

The athletes, all of whom are in their early 20s, questioned the outcome and requested a new investigation, after they learned about the school’s sexualized violence office — a resource the women should have been referred to when they first came forward, per BU policy.

The request was refused, until a reporter contacted administration; it was only then the school put Roziere on leave and announced it was hiring an external consultant to investigate.

At the time, a university spokesperson said the Free Press brought forward new information that required a second look.

“The total sum of money the university has spent on external lawyers and external consultants, in relation to handling and investigating allegations of sexual harassment brought forward by former soccer student athletes since November 2020, is $41,575.44,” states a recent university response to a freedom of information request.

Citing third-party privacy, BU declined to explicitly provide details about the cost of hiring human rights lawyer Pamela Clarke to do a new investigation.

Clarke’s damning findings include: Roziere inappropriately partied with students; demonstrated “a pattern of sexually harassing behaviour;” and leveraged his position of power to blackmail athletes not to tell anyone about his behaviour.

“The complaint is all about boundaries, and how the respondent has not shown the judgment to stay on the right side of the lines that separate those boundaries,” the independent investigator wrote in the confidential December 2021 report.

“The reason why this is a scandal is not because it happened — unfortunately, in all of institutions, sexual harassment, sexual assault, these things happen. The scandal is how the university administration responded to it happening, and they responded very poorly,” said Schneider, co-author of Defining Sexual Misconduct: Power, Media and #MeToo.

“This ($41,575.44) is just a reminder to the students, to the faculty and to the public, about how the institution has a poor history and a poor record of responding to sexual harassment.”

Five years ago, public outcry surrounding BU’s use of non-disclosure agreements prompted the school to create a sexualized violence policy and hire an expert to implement it.

The above were ignored throughout much of the internal examination of Roziere’s behaviour.

The athletic director, human resources head, and human rights adviser each failed to immediately connect the student who filed the first complaint with the specialized co-ordinator.

In a public apology posted on BU’s website in late April, the school indicated it is “unreservedly” sorry for what its students have endured, promised to do better, and announced it was seeking an independent review of its athletics program at-large.

Calling the unsigned apology equally “problematic” and “disappointing,” Schneider said transparency and accountability continue to be lacking.

The professor said he is skeptical that will change, but indicated a university leader would — in an ideal world — make an announcement in early September to acknowledge the situation and outline what it has done to address it.

Both the total compensation distributed to affected soccer players and the price tag of a wide-ranging review of BU’s athletic department have yet to be finalized.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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Updated on Tuesday, August 9, 2022 6:06 AM CDT: Adds tile photo

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