A former mining executive for Skeena Resources Ltd. (TSX: SKE) is suing the company for wrongful termination after going on medical leave for raising concerns related to a sexist and toxic work environment.
The lawsuit was filed on February 17 at the Vancouver Supreme Court by Kelly Earle who was previously a senior vice president of corporate development at Skeena but was terminated after going on medical leave due to her negative experience at the workplace.
According to the Court Services file, Earle got promoted to a senior vice-president role which is where she said she began experiencing sexist and toxic conduct.
“She began experiencing all of the sexist, toxic conduct that has come to define the mining industry and, indeed, many other industries that are similarly perceived as ‘old boys’ clubs,’ unfriendly to women,” reads the lawsuit.
For 18 months, Earle says she reported the sexist behaviours numerous times but the company ignored, diminished or rejected her claims. She claims to have complained to executive chairman Walter Coles, CFO Andrew MacRitchie and CEO Randy Reichert about inappropriate behaviour by an adviser to the company.
Earle states in the lawsuit that Skeena Resources largely dismissed her complaints and excused the adviser’s conduct as being “old school” and “from another time”.
“When [Earle] again raised her concerns in the context of a broader discussion in October 2022, she was told that [the adviser] was ‘too important to let go’ and that everyone had their issues.”
Earle advised watching what she said among colleagues to avoid internal ‘Me Too movement’
According to the document, Earle was subsequently advised by Walter Coles that he did not want his female employees to start their own “Me Too movement” and that she should watch what she said around certain colleagues.
According to Earle’s claims, following her conversation with the company, she was stripped of her responsibility for project financing decisions related to the Eskay Creek project, which was clearly within her purview as senior vice president. Additionally, she alleges that she began to be excluded from senior management meetings, including those that pertained to her own department.
The lawsuit also alleges that several female staff members, including Earle, reported instances of bullying behaviour by the company’s human resources manager, but the company did not take any action. The situation was only resolved when the manager resigned.
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After concerns were raised, she was treated differently than male colleagues, reads the lawsuit
The lawsuit claims that Earle took medical leave because of the toxic environment and when she returned Coles advised her that if anyone else had taken three weeks of medical leave, they’d have no job to come back to.
“The plaintiff communicated to Walter Coles her understanding that she could not be let go for taking medical leave, but was advised that if it happened again, the plaintiff would be fired.”
Earle alleges that after raising her concerns, the company abruptly terminated her six-and-a-half-year arrangement to work both remotely and in the office, claiming she was “strongly advised” to be present in the office to make a good impression.
She claims that her male colleagues were not subject to the same emphasis on “face time,” and that she was openly criticized for attending personal appointments and events on Saturday, which were previously acceptable.
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Second medical leave led to termination
As a result of the toxic work environment, Earle claims she took another medical leave and wrote to the company last December, to express her concerns and suggest negotiating a severance package, as she felt the company was attempting to terminate her employment.
However, she claims that the same day she submitted the letter, the company failed to make promised salary top-up payments, suspended her email account, did not complete her disability paperwork and picked up her company laptop via courier.
She wrote to the board of directors to raise her concerns and received a response that they were taking her concerns seriously but later learned that the board had accepted her resignation, which Earle denies sending.
Earle’s lawyers wrote to the company to state that she believed she had been fired, but the company denies her allegations and says it will file a response.
Mugglehead Magazine has reached out to Skeena Resources for a statement.
Vancouver-based Skeena is a mining exploration and development company focused on revitalizing the past-producing Eskay Creek gold-silver mine 83 kilometres northwest of Stewart, British Columbia and 125 km south of Iskut within the traditional territory of the Tahltan Nation and the asserted traditional territory of the Skii Km Lax Ha Nation.
Eskay was the highest-grade gold mine in the world when in production. The mine produced 3.3 million ounces of gold and 160 million ounces of silver at average grades of 45 g/t gold and 2,224 g/t silver from 1994 -2008.