Alberta Politics
Alberta Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Statement of defence by Premier’s Office indicates Jobs Minister Doug Schweitzer wanted fired chief of staff replaced

Posted on December 02, 2021, 2:07 am
8 mins

After the story broke in late October that Doug Schweitzer’s ministerial chief of staff, Ariella Kimmel, had filed a lawsuit claiming she was unjustly fired for complaining about sexual harassment in a workplace where open drinking and abusive behaviour were tolerated, the minister of jobs, economy and innovation told reporters he wasn’t aware of her allegations.

“A lot of the information that came out in the media yesterday was new to me,” Mr. Schweitzer said at the time. “That being said, you know, Ariella Kimmel is an excellent staffer, I’ve been a reference for her after she, you know, departed from the Legislature, and I’d still be a reference for her today.”

Former ministerial chief of staff Ariella Kimmel, who is suing for recovery of wages and damages (Photo: Ariella Kimmel/LobbyMonitor.ca).

A statement of defence in the case filed by the Premier’s Office, however, indicates that whether or not Mr. Schweitzer knew Ms. Kimmel was going to be fired or the reasons that would be given, he did play a role in the circumstances leading to her dismissal. 

“On several occasions, Minister Schweitzer had requested that his former Chief of Staff be reappointed to the Chief of Staff position held by the Plaintiff,” the statement of defence says. “As a result of the foregoing and due to the fact that no other role was available for the Plaintiff, the Defendant decided to terminate the Plaintiff’s employment.” The defendant in this statement is the office of the premier.

“The Plaintiff was terminated, without cause, on February 5, 2021,” the statement of defence bluntly goes on to say, before adding that Ms. Kimmel “was given the opportunity to, and did, provide input into the messaging sent out with respect to her exit from the Defendant.” She was paid severance of $2,659 and given a reference letter, the statement says. 

When CBC Calgary broke the story about the statement of defence yesterday afternoon, reporter Elise von Scheel interviewed Mr. Schweitzer, who told her, in the CBC’s words, the assertions in the statement of defence “are missing context.” 

It’s true he wanted to see his former chief of staff return, Mr. Schweitzer told the CBC reporter, but he said he was just following up on a promise by staff in the Premier’s Office this would happen the next time there was a shuffle of ministerial staff. 

“I assumed Ariella Kimmel was going to be moved to another office in the Legislature during this staffing shuffle,” he told Ms. von Scheel. “To be clear, I never asked the premier’s office to terminate her employment.”

Mr. Schweitzer also insisted to the CBC he was unaware of any of the complaints about Ms. Kimmel’s performance and behaviour described in the statement of defence. 

Lawyer Kathryn Marshall, representing Ms. Kimmel (Photo: Milburn & Associates).

Putting this in the best possible light from Mr. Schweitzer’s perspective, it’s extremely surprising the Premier’s Office didn’t thoroughly brief him on what it was going to say in its statement of defence to Ms. Kimmel’s allegations, which have been widely published by media. 

It would also be fair to observe that his failure to ask what was going to happen to a senior employee he was seeking to replace is unusual. 

Regardless, as the CBC’s story makes clear, the statement of defence disputes many claims made by Ms. Kimmel. It denies there was a toxic culture of misconduct and harassment in the building, and implies the Premier’s Office had no knowledge of inappropriate comments alleged to have been made by a lawyer employed by the government at the time. 

It also denies it had any knowledge of an incident in former Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen’s office described in Ms. Kimmel’s statement of claim and argues, if it took place, “it was a disagreement between the Plaintiff and Mr. Dreeshen, with whom the Plaintiff was admittedly involved in a personal relationship.”

Former agriculture minister Devin Dreeshen, outstanding in his field (Photo: Government of Alberta).

Moreover, the statement of defence goes to some length to allege Ms. Kimmel “engaged in inappropriate and disrespectful and behaviour toward her scheduling staff” and others, and “engaged in gossip with other employees…” The statement of defence also denied anyone in the Premier’s Office was the source of rumours about Ms. Kimmel alleged in her statement of claim. 

Ms. Kimmel’s lawyer, Kathryn Marshall, described the claims made in the statement of defence as “just an extension of the retaliatory conduct that my client has endured for a long time now from the government.”

“It is one of the main reasons that a lot of people don’t blow the whistle and they don’t speak out about wrongdoing in the workplace because they don’t want to be character assassinated,” she told the CBC.

The Kenney Government has been quite successful in making this situation out to be a story about drunkenness and sophomoric hijinks in the office of one minister, Mr. Dreeshen, who is no longer a member of cabinet.

None of the facts in either Ms. Kimmel’s statement of claim or the Premier’s Office’s statement of defence have been proved in court, but it’s nevertheless important to keep in mind that this is a story about an employee who complained about harassment of other female employees, and may have been fired for raising the issue. 

The statement of defence says that the Premier’s Office is willing to pay Ms. Kimmel an additional $29,541.38, “less required deductions,” in accordance with her employment agreement.

Ms. Kimmel is seeking $399,000 in salary and damages. 

13 Comments to: Statement of defence by Premier’s Office indicates Jobs Minister Doug Schweitzer wanted fired chief of staff replaced

  1. Dave

    December 2nd, 2021

    Mr. Schweitzer’s supposed lack of knowledge about all of this should be a bit surprising. Kenney somehow seems to have a soft spot for him. Schweitzer may appeal to more moderate Conservatives than Kenney and the rest of the gang can reach, so perhaps Kenney feels he is useful in that way

    It’s not quite clear who is covering for who here, perhaps it is mutual. Maybe Schweitzer can avoid more scrutiny by claiming he did not know what was really going on and by trying to portray this as an innocent reshuffling misunderstanding.

    Maybe Schweitzer was not the instigator of Kimmel’s departure and perhaps he even had a good relationship with her, but it seems likely others did not and really wanted her gone. So perhaps Schweitzer just gets to play the useful idiot who provided the pretext of wanting his former assistant back so this could be accomplished.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    December 2nd, 2021

    The saga continues with these pretend conservatives and Reformers in the UCP. The worst government Alberta has had. The UCP makes Ralph Klein look good, when Ralph Klein was also really bad. Don’t say that you weren’t warned.

    Reply
  3. tom

    December 2nd, 2021

    “Former agriculture minister Devin Dreeshen, outstanding in his field”: best photo caption of 2021.

    Reply
    • Mike J Danysh

      December 2nd, 2021

      Could we get him to stay there? Please?

      Reply
    • Phlogiston

      December 2nd, 2021

      ABS, I am not a lawyer. And what little knowledge I acquired of labour law from my involvement in a union many, many years ago is scant and woefully out of date. That said, I think it is typical for defendants in wrongful dismissal cases to ask for a reduction of the award based on the plaintiff’s current employment status.

      The fact that the request for a reduction in the award aligns nicely with the other retaliatory and vengeful actions by the UCP toward Ms. Kimmel is hardly surprising, though. This is one mean-spirited old boys club, it would appear.

      Reply
  4. A little bird

    December 2nd, 2021

    This is the kind of retaliation one would expect from such an immature and disrespectful bunch. I can’t believe they fired her without cause and gave her 2,600 in Severance and expected that to be the end of it.

    Kathryn Marshal being the plaintiffs lawyer, you can’t make up this level of conservative infighting. My guess is that she makes short work of these short pant wearing idiots.

    Reply
    • A little bird

      December 2nd, 2021

      And then the character assassination on top of it ? Can she sue for defamation after she wins this case ?

      Reply
      • David Climenhaga

        December 2nd, 2021

        Little Bird: She could try, but as an amateur with an interest in defamation law, I think it would be a steep uphill fight, probably not worth the effort. First, she’d have to be subjected to the Premier’s Office trying to prove its claims in a public courtroom. That would be unpleasant. They would also claim to have a privilege for what they’re saying – and would probably have a case for that because the statements were made in a legal document, their statement of defence. I think the most effective strategy is the one Ms. Marshall is pursuing, to win in court or negotiate a substantial cash for the plaintiff. As they say, living well is the best revenge, and nothing contributes to the ability to live well like pots of money. DJC

        Reply
  5. Just Me

    December 2nd, 2021

    It looks like that Premier Crying & Screaming Midget is letting everyone in his government use his “Waaaaaay Backwards” time machine. Kenney has also been, like his mentor Stephen Harpo, of the belief that words DO NOT matter. That was one of Presto Manning’s biggest complaints about Harpo and Kenney has embraced that practice to get out of every fix he finds himself in.

    So, I guess all those “I Stand With Ariella Kimmel” signs at the UCP AGM must have triggered the government, because they are falling over themselves denying they ever knew who Kimmel was and why she was in their government. Kimmel was a long time associate of Kenney when he was in the federal cabinet. She has no doubt proven herself time and time again as an able staffer, so able that Kenney imported her into his UCP government. There’s no explanation for this sudden change of belief, apart from Kimmel making noises about the toxic climate among UCP MLAs and staffers and complaining about other’s drunken antics.

    So, suddenly Doug Schweitzer’s story has changed. Instead of waxing on about Kimmel as a quality staff member and offering sterling recommendations for her, he has decided to say that he wanted Kimmel replaced. As for Wolf’s apparent disinterest in Kimmel’s complaints that were addressed to him, he’s down the road and far from the UCP, no doubt with a cool transition allowance in hand. And Jason Nixon is nowhere to be found, of course, so he can’t be asked about what happened.

    Like their COVID response, Kenney can’t seem to get all the oars in the water at the same time. And I need more popcorn.

    I’m going to have a 600 lbs life at this rate.

    Reply
    • A little bird

      December 2nd, 2021

      The other part of it that is bizarre is when you no longer have a position available for a person in your employ you lay them off, firing without cause is a whole different thing, and often suggests retribution of some kind. Now they’re suggesting that their government, who has never been short on staffers, simply didn’t have the payroll hours (?) can’t wait to see that one play out in court.

      Popcorn indeed.

      Reply
  6. Phlogiston

    December 2nd, 2021

    Doug Schweitzer’s narrative regarding the circumstances of Ms. Kimmel’s dismissal is disingenuous (at best). His narrative belies an incompetent and unsympathetic manager who apparently had no respect or concern for an employee who reported directly to him. He was her boss. A good manager would meet with his employee and discuss issues of significant moment, such as, I don’t know, the desire to replace the employee with a drinking buddy, I mean, former chief of staff. During this hypothetical meeting, the employee could get feedback on the reasons for the change.

    The fact that Schweitzer requested to change his chief of staff and did not do so much as follow up to see if his current chief of staff would land on her feet is just another example of the craven and irresponsible behavior we have often seen from members of this government. If they lack empathy and sympathy at an individual level, you can be sure it is missing entirely from their policy decisions, as we have seen on numerous occasions related to Covid.

    Reply
  7. Just Me

    December 2nd, 2021

    And speaking of more of the UCP’s legal troubles …

    It appears to be in the news today that Kenney has retained the legal counsel for his defence from the impending lawsuits from eco-advocacy organizations.

    So…it looks like Alberta will be paying for these legal actions. Of course, there is an open and standing offer from Brett Wilson to foot the entire legal bill for Kenney’s defence. He made the offer via tweet (I guess that can be considered the start of a legal contract, by other means) and also offered the services of his top-flight lawyers. Wilson promises victory and the complete destruction of eco-terrorists. Okay, Wilson tweets like someone’s angry ex, but maybe it’s something Kenney should look at. As for the apparent conflict of interest in such an arragement, because Wilson is a beneficiary of the UCP orphan well clean-up program, when has Kenney cared about conflicts of any kind? The dude is a vortex of bad karma and wholesale stupidity — why stop now?

    Reply

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