Lawyer con­firms no WLU com­plaint

Let­ter says there may be no doc­u­ment of what sparked the con­tro­versy over Lind­say Shep­herd’s tu­to­rial

Waterloo Region Record - - FRONT PAGE - Laura Booth, Record staff

WATER­LOO — The lawyer en­gaged by Wil­frid Lau­rier Uni­ver­sity to pre­pare a fact-find­ing re­port into a con­tro­ver­sial rep­ri­mand of grad­u­ate stu­dent Lind­say Shep­herd has con­firmed there was never a for­mal com­plaint about her tu­to­rial.

In a let­ter dated Dec. 4, and sent to Shep­herd’s lawyer Howard Le­vitt, from the Lau­rier-hired lawyer Robert Centa, it reads: “You asked for a copy of the com­plaint or com­plaints filed against your client. At this point in my in­ves­ti­ga­tion, I do not be­lieve there is a doc­u­ment that con­tains a ‘com­plaint’ made about Ms. Shep­herd nor is there any­thing I would de­scribe as a for­mal com­plaint un­der any WLU policy,” wrote Centa,

In a Twit­ter post, 23-year-old Shep­herd made a com­ment on the dis­cov­ery.

“The con­cern could’ve been dis­cussed face-to-face with (pro­fes­sor) Ram­bukkana, sure. But with no ev­i­dence, how will I ever know what was truly said by the com­plainant?”

On Nov. 8, Shep­herd was called into a meet­ing with two pro­fes­sors — Nathan Ram­bukkana and Herbert Pim­lott — and a di­ver­sity and eq­uity of­fi­cial with the uni­ver­sity, Adria Joel, af­ter a com­plaint was al­legedly made about her tu­to­rial.

Shep­herd recorded the meet­ing, where she was rep­ri­manded for show­ing a video clip of two Uni­ver­sity of Toronto pro­fes­sors de­bat­ing the use of gen­der-neu­tral pro­nouns on the tele­vi­sion pro­gram, “The Agenda.” One of

the pro­fes­sors in the clip was Jor­dan Peter­son, who ar­gues against be­ing forced to use gen­derneu­tral pro­nouns.

Af­ter a record­ing of Shep­herd’s meet­ing was made pub­lic, both Lau­rier Pres­i­dent Deb­o­rah MacLatchy and Ram­bukkana is­sued a pub­lic apol­ogy to her.

In mid-Novem­ber, MacLatchy an­nounced she would cre­ate a task force — to ex­plore the uni­ver­sity’s role in ad­her­ing to prin­ci­ples of free­dom of speech and ex­pres­sion while re­spect­ing hu­man rights leg­is­la­tion and val­ues of di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion — and she would also launch a sep­a­rate third-party, fact-find­ing ex­er­cise.

Centa, a part­ner at the Toron­to­based law firm Paliare Roland Rosen­berg Roth­stein LLP, was an­nounced on Nov. 23 as the person who would con­duct the lat­ter.

He will “make a re­port to the pres­i­dent re­gard­ing the events lead­ing up to the meet­ing and the meet­ing it­self,” ac­cord­ing to a Thurs­day state­ment from the uni­ver­sity.

“The uni­ver­sity has en­gaged an in­de­pen­dent party to as­sess the facts of the mat­ter in­clud­ing a re­view of re­lated pro­cesses go­ing for­ward,” wrote MacLatchy in her Nov. 21 state­ment of apol­ogy.

“The re­view is in­tended to sup­port im­prove­ment in our pro­cesses. The uni­ver­sity is com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that the vi­tally im­por­tant role of teach­ing as­sis­tant sup­ports an en­riched learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment for all stu­dents.”

But Shep­herd and Le­vitt, an em­ploy­ment lawyer rep­re­sent­ing Shep­herd pro-bono, have ques­tions about the pur­pose of the fact-find­ing mis­sion af­ter re­ceiv­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the lawyer hired for the task.

“You asked me to pro­vide for the terms of my man­date,” wrote Centa in the Dec. 4 let­ter to Le­vitt. “I have been re­tained to an in­de­pen­dent, con­fi­den­tial fact-find­ing ex­er­cise with re­spect to em­ploy­ment-re­lated mat­ters aris­ing from a Nov. 1, 2017, tu­to­ri­als led by Ms. Shep­herd.”

In an in­ter­view on Thurs­day, Le­vitt said up un­til re­ceipt of the let­ter, there was no in­di­ca­tion this would be an em­ploy­men­tre­lated mat­ter.

“In my view they’re ei­ther try­ing to ter­mi­nate her, and I’m not go­ing to pro­vide them the tools to do that, or they’re try­ing to san­i­tize what they’ve al­ready done,” said Le­vitt.

For the pur­pose of his factfind­ing mis­sion, Centa also asks Shep­herd in the let­ter to “dis­cuss what hap­pened in the Nov. 1 tu­to­ri­als and how she per­ceived the Nov. 8 meet­ing.”

In the let­ter he also states that he was hired by the pres­i­dent to com­plete the ex­er­cise and will make rec­om­men­da­tions to the pres­i­dent as a re­sult.

“But I have no author­ity to make any de­ci­sion that would im­pose any ad­verse con­se­quence on Ms. Shep­herd or any­one else at WLU,” he writes.

Centa also makes it clear that Shep­herd is able to “make a for­mal com­plaint re­gard­ing bul­ly­ing or work­place harassment un­der any ex­ist­ing uni­ver­sity policy re­gard­ing how she was treated,” in the meet­ing.

Centa would not pro­vide com­ment when asked Thurs­day.

The uni­ver­sity has said Centa’s re­port will re­main con­fi­den­tial as it in­volves per­son­nel mat­ters.

Lind­say Shep­herd

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