Former chef at Coastal GasLink pipeline camp sues for sexual battery, failure to warn of protests

A woman who worked as a chef at a Coastal GasLink pipeline work camp is suing the company and the contractor who hired her for allegedly exposing her to “harassing and abusive behaviours by inebriated employees.”

In a notice of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court earlier this month, the woman — who the CBC is identifying by her initials, J.M. — said she suffered “sexual battery” by someone who embraced her at one of the camps without her consent and “fondled, then forcibly grabbed” her buttocks.

The 30-year-old is suing both Civeo Premium Services — the company which provides accommodation and hospitality for workers building the 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline — and Coastal GasLink, which she calls “the vicarious defendant.”

J.M. is suing Civeo for breach of contract and both companies for negligence and damages she claims she suffered as a result of a “callous disregard” for her privacy and well-being.

She claims the companies failed to “screen for suitability [their] agents, employees and guests, especially in light of the remote nature of the worksite and prevalence of sexual violence at such remote worksites.”

She also alleges that Civeo and Coastal GasLink failed to give her a chance to evacuate from the site in advance of a protest blockade last fall, which cut off water and supplies.

‘Further humiliated’

If completed, the Coastal GasLink pipeline would run from near Dawson Creek in eastern B.C. to Kitimat on the Pacific coast.

J.M. claims she began working in June 2021 as executive chef at 9A Lodge and P2 Lodge, work camps located down a remote resource road about 100 kilometres east of Houston.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline protest checkpoint in 2019. J.M. claims the company and its contractors failed to give her a chance to evacuate from a worksite ahead of a blockade that cut off supplies. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Her employment was terminated in April 2022.

She claims the alleged sexual battery happened in her private office when an “agent” of Coastal GasLink embraced her without her consent, grabbed her buttocks and “inappropriately” commented on her body.

She claims that her employers failed to properly investigate and that her supervisor disclosed details of the incident to her colleagues and subordinates, leaving her “further humiliated.”

J.M. says insufficient staffing levels meant she and her team worked shifts of up to 20 hours a day for rotations of 30-40 days. When she was hired, she claims she was told she would have 10 days off after 20 days on-site.

When she complained, she claims she was subjected to “retaliatory poor performance reviews and kitchen audits.”

‘Unhygienic and unsafe’

The Coastal GasLink pipeline has been the subject of ongoing protests supporting Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who say Coastal GasLink does not have consent to cross their territory.

The company has obtained a court injunction preventing protestors from interfering with the pipeline’s construction, which led to dozens of arrests last November after the company complained that 500 of its workers were trapped behind three blockades.

The B.C. Prosecution Service is expected to announce this week whether those arrests will result in criminal contempt charges against 27 protestors.

At the time of the blockades, the company warned that water and supplies could run out as access to the outside world was choked and that workers might not be able to access medical care in the event of an emergency.

In her lawsuit, J.M. claims Civeo and Coastal GasLink failed to notify her about the “imminent protestors blockade,” which left her and others stranded in the work camps.

She accuses the companies of “restricting the access of supplies, water, and septic services to 9A Lodge and P2 Lodge, thereby creating a sustained unhygienic and unsafe working and living environment.”

J.M. claims she and her kitchen team were not permitted “to wash their clothes or leave their workstation to bathe for approximately 10 days on three separate occasions.”

She claims she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and that the situation has worsened a pre-existing heart condition.

She says the companies had a duty to “provide a safe and humane workplace environment” and “to educate and train staff members properly on matters of professional conduct, including the harmful and dangerous effects of sexual misconduct.”

Neither of the companies has filed a response to the claim.

Coastal GasLink said it would not comment on the matter while it was before the courts.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Civeo said the company would not discuss the case outside of the “formal legal process.”

“We take these allegations seriously and intend to address these claims in our response filing to the court,” the statement said. 

None of the claims have been proven in court.

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