A leaked report on alleged workplace misconduct at Mile One Centre in St. John’s details complaints against Deacon Sports and Entertainment going back almost three years, noting incidents of intimidation and “psychological bullying.”
The report, leaked to the media earlier this week, was prepared in March by St. John’s management consulting firm Goss Gilroy, which was brought in by the City of St. John’s to investigate in July 2020, according to the report.
The 86-page report comes as the city continues an internal investigation that began when the city barred the Newfoundland Growlers, owned by Deacon Sports and Entertainment, from using Mile One Centre after officials received accusations of “disrespectful workplace conduct” in October.
According to the report, the investigator found senior employees of St. John’s Sports and Entertainment, which operates the arena — renamed Mary Brown’s Centre earlier this month — were subject to workplace harassment by employees, management and leadership of Mile One’s tenants.
Although the St. John’s Edge basketball team occupied the arena at the same time as the Growlers, the report says the majority of the problematic behaviour can be connected to Growlers staff and management.
“The tenants repeated patterns of behaviour that were vexatious and amounted to behaviour that they knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause intimidation, offence and humiliation in the workplace,” the findings of the report read. “Behaviours can be characterised as a repeated pattern of psychological bullying and intimidation.”
CBC requested an interview with SJSE. In response, a lawyer representing the city said they would consider legal action if CBC reported on the leaked document. The response also said SJSE has advised the privacy commissioner of the leak.
The report centres on two letters sent by a group of six senior SJSE employees, dated April 10 and May 14 of 2019. The letters detail a level of sustained harassment over 16 months, beginning in December 2017, to the point where it became an “acutely hostile work environment.”
The nature of the environment led to elevated stress and anxiety, concerns over job security and concerns over finding future employment due to misrepresentation of the situation in the public eye, according to the report, which says two SJSE employees took medical leave due to stress-related conditions.
A third letter sent to the SJSE board in July 2019 said the situation had not changed since the first two letters. Employees called on the board to respond to the situation and asked them to respond to a lack of oversight.
Concerns were brought forward in 2018
In the second letter sent by SJSE employees, the employees say they brought their concerns to a city and board representative in October 2018. However, the report says there wasn’t a plan in place to address their concerns.
In the weeks that followed, the board sent a “detailed and stern letter” to Mile One Centre’s tenants, which are named only “Tenant A” and “Tenant B” in the report. Due to specific details in the report, CBC has identified Tenant A as the Edge ownership group and Tenant B as the Growlers ownership group.
Tenant A met with the board three weeks after the letter was sent, apologizing to employees treated poorly by anyone affiliated with the team.
Tenant B did not offer an apology, according to the report.
The report also states the board viewed a desire from both Dean MacDonald, owner of Deacon Sports and Entertainment, and the public to buy the arena from the city as a root of the problem, suggesting some Deacon staff were acting as if MacDonald already owned the arena.
As the toxic working conditions continued into 2019, the report says there was a time where the situation improved — when a memorandum of understanding between the tenants and the city was cancelled.
The MOU, which laid the groundwork for the teams assuming management of day-to-day operations at Mile One Centre, was cancelled in July 2019 because a proposal from the ownership groups included a subsidy from the city’s taxpayers.
The work environment improved following the move, the report says, prompting the employee group to ask the board to take the opportunity to address the working relationship with the tenants.
The report ultimately found the board didn’t fulfil its duties of care and obedience toward its employees, adding the board had an obligation to respond fully in November 2018 as harassment continued.
Report is ‘one-sided’: MacDonald
Following a speaking event in Paradise Wednesday, MacDonald called the report “one-sided.”
“I know from talking to my staff that pretty much all the facts I read in the report can be refuted by emails and information we have,” MacDonald told reporters. “We’re very enthusiastic to see the process run, and are very confident in our treatment of people.”
According to the report, MacDonald’s use of the media has affected SJSE employees’ well-being and left them feeling devalued.
WATCH: Dean MacDonald shares his thoughts on the leaked report with the CBC’s Terry Roberts:
MacDonald — who is, like the teams, not named in the report but identifiable through specific details — has previously said SJSE employees seemed to be “under duress” when staff started receiving customer complaints on social media due to a ticketing problem earlier this year.
“I met with staff at Mile One in the first season we were there to say I understood that they may have some duress over us taking over management of the facility. I told them that they would be pleased because we’d have more jobs, we’d probably involve them in a profit-sharing program.… I think it was a very honest and open discussion,” he said.
MacDonald said he didn’t know there was a report before it was leaked this week.
“We’ll let all that legal crap run its course.… This is management to management issue. And I think the investigation, when it happens, will prove that to be the case.”