Bestselling Canadian author Steven Galloway’s privacy rights were violated and his reputation was damaged by the University of British Columbia, an arbitrator has ruled in the highly publicized case. Mr. Galloway, who was fired from his position as chair of UBC’s creative-writing program after accusations that included sexual harassment, has been awarded $167,000 in damages.
“I find that certain communications by the University contravened the Grievor’s privacy rights and caused harm to his reputation,” wrote arbitrator John Hall in a summary decision, released Friday.
The decision reveals that the faculty association withdrew its claim last February for Mr. Galloway to be reinstated to his position running the program. The association also removed claims for compensation for lost income and benefits. That meant the issue of whether UBC had cause to dismiss Mr. Galloway was no longer part of the arbitration.
“[The Main Complainant] is pleased that Mr. Galloway will not be returning to his position of trust in his teaching post at UBC,” wrote Joanna Birenbaum, the lawyer representing the Main Complainant (MC) in the case, in a statement to The Globe and Mail.
“On its face, the arbitrator’s ruling is not an exoneration of Mr. Galloway or his conduct,” Ms. Birenbaum added. “An award was made in Mr. Galloway’s favour, but it appears to relate only to UBC’s process in handling and publicly revealing the allegations. The grievance with respect to Mr. Galloway’s termination by UBC was withdrawn.”
Through his lawyer, Mr. Galloway, 42, declined to comment Friday.
The UBC Faculty Association says its research indicates that the typical range of damage awards for breach of privacy and reputational harm in Canada has in the past been $500 to $10,000. “The Faculty Association will continue to work diligently to protect the rights and interests of its members at UBC,” it said in a statement.
Mr. Galloway was suspended abruptly in November, 2015. UBC issued a memo at the time that fuelled enormous speculation at the university, in literary circles and beyond. The memo named him, cited “serious allegations,” reported that an investigation would be conducted, and offered students counselling if they needed it or if they had “information that is concerning to your safety and well-being.”
The memo also urged people to “Please keep in mind that the investigation has not yet commenced and no findings have been made about any wrongdoing by Prof. Galloway.”
Retired B.C. Supreme Court judge Mary Ellen Boyd was brought in to conduct an independent investigation. Among the people she interviewed: MC, several ancillary complainants and Mr. Galloway.
After the Boyd report was delivered, Mr. Galloway was fired in June of 2016 without severance. UBC cited “a record of misconduct that resulted in an irreparable breach of the trust placed in faculty members.”
Details of the allegations were initially kept under wraps, but it later emerged that Mr. Galloway was accused by MC, a former student in the program, of sexual assault and sexual harassment. In a statement issued in 2016, Mr. Galloway indicated that Ms. Boyd found on a balance of probabilities that he had not committed sexual assault. He said he had an affair with MC, and apologized for his behaviour.
Subsequently, MC released a statement saying her complaint was not about a consensual affair.
On Friday, Ms. Birenbaum noted that MC has still not received an unredacted copy of the Boyd report. In her copy, key paragraphs on the investigator’s findings about MC’s report of sexual harassment are blacked out.
The faculty association, it was revealed Friday, filed two grievances. In December, 2015, it argued that UBC had violated Mr. Galloway’s privacy rights, causing him irreparable damage to his reputation and financial loss.
Then in July, 2016, after Mr. Galloway was fired, the association argued there had been “substantial procedural violations” by UBC administration and that the university’s communications regarding the termination “had been misleading and had caused both serious reputational damage and ongoing personal suffering” to Mr. Galloway.
The week Mr. Galloway was suspended in November, 2015, Dean of Arts Gage Averill granted media interviews as did Annabel Lyon and Linda Svendsen, who were appointed interim co-chairs of the program.
Philip Steenkamp, vice-president of external relations at UBC said in a statement Friday, “UBC accepts the decision of the arbitrator.”
Details of the arbitration proceedings – which began in September, 2017, and saw “extensive documentary materials tendered by both parties” – cannot be revealed by the parties involved. Neither Mr. Galloway nor MC was party to the proceedings.
“MC is not surprised that the grievance was withdrawn by the Faculty Association and Mr. Galloway, rather than risk a finding by the arbitrator upholding Mr. Galloway’s termination, in a factually detailed and publicly available decision,” wrote Ms. Birenbaum, noting that the decision indicates the grievance was withdrawn after more than three weeks of evidence was heard by the arbitrator.
“While the public remains mostly in the dark about the impact of Galloway’s actions on complainants, many of us know the details all too well, and we are relieved he will not return to a position of power at UBC,” Chelsey Rooney, an ancillary complainant, told The Globe. “His termination remains the victory of people who report sexual assault, harassment, and bullying.”
Another ancillary complainant, Sierra Skye Gemma, said “what matters to me is that UBC permanently removed Galloway from a position of power. I hope this inspires other women writers ... to know that their stories matter, that they can help make our institutions safer for other women.”
As for why Mr. Galloway might have given up his fight to get his job back, University of Manitoba professor of law Karen Busby says it comes down to whether people want to put it behind them. “He could win, he could lose. He’s decided to walk away,” said Prof. Busby, who has been working on a paper about confidentiality and disclosure in sexual violence and harassment complaints.
“There’s always a risk if you litigate. And there’s a risk that the decision would be made public.”