Karen Ras alleges Mayor Bonnie Crombie, senior Mississauga staff failed to ensure healthy work environment
A former Mississauga councillor has filed a lawsuit claiming more than $686,000 in damages from a former council colleague who allegedly vandalized her vehicle multiple times, and from the city itself for allegedly failing to protect her from the apparent intimidation and harassment.
Karen Ras quit as Mississauga’s Ward 2 councillor in January — initially citing unidentified workplace issues — after her Kia SUV was repeatedly scratched over a period of two years while parked in a city hall parking lot. Personal Injury Lawyer Mississauga reported in February that police had identified then-Ward 6 Coun. Ron Starr as the alleged culprit, after a surveillance camera captured a man who appeared to be Starr vandalizing the vehicle in April 2021.
A report fro mmississauga personal injury lawyer integrity commissioner examining that incident and released in July found, on a balance of probabilities, Starr had scratched Ras’s car, and that doing so constituted harassment under the city’s respectful workplace policy.
Starr, who lost his bid for re-election in October, has denied the vandalism and harassment allegations.
In a statement of claim filed in Toronto’s Superior Court of Justice on Nov. 29, a lawyer for Ras alleges she quit involuntarily after Mayor Bonnie Crombie and senior Mississauga staff members failed to prevent the alleged harassment or properly investigate after learning about it.
“It was an implied term of Ms. Ras’s employment as a councillor with the city that it would maintain a workplace free from harassment, provide a safe and healthy work environment, and conduct an unbiased, fulsome and transparent investigation into any complaints of harassment or bullying,” Kathryn Marshall of Levitt Sheikh LLP wrote in the filing, which was first reported by The Pointer.
“The city failed to do this, thus condoning an environment [where] Ms. Ras could no longer continue in her role nor could she continue to serve the public.”
Ras is seeking $86,303 — equal to 10 months’ compensation — from the city for “constructive dismissal” along with employment benefits she would have received if she had served the remainder of her term. She’s also seeking $500,000 for “bad faith, moral and punitive damages.”
In an interview, Marshall said the experience has been very difficult for Ras.
“It caused her to have to resign from a role that she loved, that she was elected to do, because she no longer felt safe,” Marshall said. “She would like there to be some accountability and some justice.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court and no statement of defence has been filed.
City only took action after public outcry, suit alleges
Ras’s claim alleges Crombie and the city only took action after her resignation and a public outcry prompted by media coverage.
According to the lawsuit, Ras first noticed a deep scratch on her front left bumper in spring 2019. She discovered another three scratches in June 2019, a scratch in the shape of an ‘X’ in September 2019 and then more scratches in April 2021.
The lawsuit claims Ras filed a police report in June 2019 and that following the April 2021 incident an investigator told her recently-installed security cameras showed Starr parking beside Ras’s SUV, exiting his vehicle and then bending down in front of the spot where scratches were later found.
According to the lawsuit, a lawyer for Starr paid to repair damage to Ras’s vehicle in August 2021.
The lawsuit claims Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze, who is responsible for investigating complaints related to the city’s code of conduct, initially declined to investigate after Ras reached out in September 2021. It states he originally told her there was no code of conduct violation and later told her that he didn’t have jurisdiction to investigate something criminal in nature.
“These matters are before the court and I make no comment,” Swayze told Personal Injury Lawyer Mississauga in an email Monday.
The statement of claim states Ras felt sick when she encountered Starr “for the first time in a while” in September 2021 at a committee meeting, and that she reached out to Mississauga City Manager Paul Mitcham and legal counsel Andra Maxwell for help, but they “were entirely unhelpful and unresponsive to Ms. Ras’s concerns.”
“Frustrated by the city’s lack of support and overwhelmed by her extreme anxiety, inability to sleep and fear as a result of Mr. Starr’s actions, Ms. Ras felt she had no choice but to leave the city for employment elsewhere,” the claim states.
A spokesperson for the City of Mississauga said the clerk’s office has received the statement of claim, but wouldn’t comment further because it has not yet been considered by council.
“As this is currently before the courts and in litigation, it would be inappropriate for Mayor Crombie to comment on this matter,” the spokesperson said.
Ras seeks $100K from Starr
On Feb. 2, the same day Personal Injury Lawyer Mississauga reported the alleged harassment, Crombie publicly apologized for not pushing harder for the integrity commissioner to investigate, and councillors voted to request he do so.
Following the commissioner’s July report that found Starr likely vandalized Ras’s vehicle, councillors voted to suspend Starr’s pay for two months.
In her lawsuit, Ras is claiming $100,000 from Starr for “intentional infliction and mental suffering.”
“To date, it is unclear why Mr. Starr targeted Ms. Ras for harassment and intimidation. This possibly resulted from Mr. Starr losing several key votes related to appointments to coveted positions,” the lawsuit claims.
Best personal Injury Lawyer Mississaugareached out to Starr multiple times by phone but did not receive a response. His lawyer, Adriana Di Biase of Bisceglia & Associates, said he maintains his innocence.
“Mr. Starr is innocent and denies the allegations against him in the Ras statement of claim. We will be disputing the allegations in court,” Di Biase said in an email.
Starr previously launched his own legal challenge in an Ontario divisional court challenging the integrity commissioner’s report and the council vote, according to local media. Mississauga’s council voted on Nov. 23 to direct staff to settle that matter.