One of the largest homebuilders in Edmonton and a prominent executive are being sued for $6.2 million by five former female employees who are alleging sexual assault, harassment and a toxic work environment.
Coventry Homes Inc. has been named the defendant in five claims filed in the Court of King’s Bench in Edmonton which allege the company failed in its responsibility to investigate claims of sexual assault and harassment against its former director of sales, Robin Nasserdeen, and that several women were forced to leave or fired after speaking out about the issue.
As of June 5, no court documents had been filed by either of the defendants. When reached, the lawyer for Nasserdeen was unavailable to comment.
In a statement issued to the Journal of Commerce (JOC), Coventry CEO Henri Rodier said the company has now cut ties with Nasserdeen.
“Last week’s allegations against Robin Nasserdeen have made it unworkable for Mr. Nasserdeen to continue to be with Coventry Homes. While legal proceedings are underway, he will be stepping away from the company to allow us to continue to focus on what we do best: building beautiful homes for families,” Rodier said.
They’re strong, they’re brave…This is a traumatic experience and everybody is dealing with it differently,
— Aaron Levitin
Samfiru Tumarkin LLP
In light of the lawsuits becoming an issue of public note last week, Aaron Levitin, a lawyer with Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, said his five clients are courageous.
“They’re strong, they’re brave. There are ebbs and flows. This is a traumatic experience and everybody is dealing with it differently,” Levitin told the JOC.
He emphasized many of his clients were highly successful, career-oriented workers who had been doing well in their fields before the alleged events derailed them.
“I think it’s important to recognize that some of the women involved have been highly successful and now their careers have been tarnished by these horrible events.”
Much of what is cited in the claims happened in the wake of an alleged sexual assault by Nasserdeen against former Coventry employee Jessica McNabb in March 2021.
McNabb’s claim directly cites Nasserdeen as a defendant, as does the claim of Caitlin Garrioch who also claims Nasserdeen repeatedly sexually harassed, abused and exploited her, and threatened retaliation if she did not keep the incidents to herself.
Two claims cite wrongful dismissal and three others cite constructive termination after raising concerns about Nasserdeen’s continued presence in the workplace and a lack of internal action in the company to address employee safety.
McNabb alleges Nasserdeen, under the guise of a work meeting at a local restaurant, drugged and raped her in a parking lot. McNabb filed a report with the Edmonton police and Nasserdeen was charged with one count of sexual assault on April 8, 2022.
This charge was verified by the Edmonton police in an email to the JOC. Nasserdeen’s criminal trial is set for February 2024. None of these allegations have been proven in court.
Within two days of Nasserdeen’s arrest, according to claims filed in court, Rodier sent a company-wide email defending Nasserdeen.
“We know Robin well, I know Robin well, given the interactions with both women and men at our company for the last 10 years. For this reason, along with various factors, we have reason to take pause about her allegations. We take all such matters seriously and prefer to have this dealt with fully and properly through the justice system,” a copy of the email in one of the claims reads.
Nasserdeen subsequently took a leave from the company before returning in September 2022.
Anne Guenther, one of the plaintiffs, claims she told executives she was scared to be around Nasserdeen later that month. She was fired on Oct. 11, 2022.
The claims allege that between Nasserdeen’s return to work and Nov. 8, 2022, five female employees were fired from the company, including several involved in the lawsuits. Kaitlyn Ross was fired for “insubordination” according to the claim.
Coventry is involved in charitable work and often does sponsorships with the Edmonton Oilers. Tim Shipton, executive vice-president with the Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG), said the company is considering next steps in light of the claims.
“We have become aware of the very serious allegations surrounding an executive at Coventry Homes and the company’s handling of the matter. We are closely monitoring the situation to determine our next steps as an organization,” Shipton told the JOC.
“The alleged behaviour is contrary to OEG’s values as an organization and our commitment to maintain a safe working environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity.”
Levitin said companies have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their employees when credible and serious allegations come up against other staff members.
“What a company must do is immediately take these sorts of incidents seriously and conduct their own investigation as best as they can, whether that means hiring a third-party investigator who has no connection to the company to make sure that it’s done properly,” Levitin said.
He states Coventry has taken the position the firings were unrelated to the issue of Nasserdeen. But the trauma of having their concerns dismissed and safety minimized will trouble the five employees for years to come, not to mention the victims of the alleged direct abuse by Nasserdeen, he said.
“Ross had a history of working with sexual assault victims. When she advised the CEO that there’s a difference between a criminal charge and an allegation and her concern is ultimately dismissed and she’s basically pushed out of the company ― it’s just terrible,” said Levitin.
“She changed careers from working with sexual assault victims because of the mentally taxing nature of the work, believing homebuilding would be safe space. And now she’s in the position that she’s in.”