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Lawsuit of the Week: B.C. Crown corporation accused of toxic workplace in wrongful dismissal claim

Former senior director suing B.C. Investment Management Corp.
The B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver

A former high-ranking worker at a provincial Crown corporation has filed suit against her old employer, accusing B.C. Investment Management Corp. (BCI) of fostering a toxic work environment.

Ela Karahasanoglu, who previously served as BCI’s senior director of total fund management, is suing for wrongful dismissal. This comes after experiencing what she claims was a “workplace culture where a group of core senior leaders held negative attitudes and biases about the role of and expectations for women in senior investment management roles.”

Karahasanoglu’s notice of civil claim noted she started at BCI in September 2019 in the position of director of total fund management in the investment strategy and risk department. She was promoted to the senior director level in December 2020, earning $200,000 as a base salary with potential bonuses bringing her annual income up to $720,000.

The April legal filings described investment as a “male-dominated industry, especially at the senior leadership levels, and is marred by deeply institutionalized biases and barriers that disadvantage women working in the industry.”

The lawsuit claimed Karahasanoglu experienced unfair treatment and hostility from male superiors from the start of her employment, and that she “repeatedly” complained to executive vice-president of human resources Norine Hale as well as to her superiors.

According to the lawsuit, the Crown corporation acknowledged it was “aware of the difficulties” for women in the industry, including at BCI, and that it was committed to improving the situation. But instead of doing anything meaningful about it, Karahasanoglu said she was reprimanded by an executive for a “purported inability to deal with ‘difficult people.’”

Karahasanoglu also said the executive gave her a low score in a June 2021 performance review, despite acknowledging she did good work, due to “strained relationships” with “key stakeholders.”

In February 2021, the company reportedly brought in Mihail Garchev, BCI’s then-former vice-president of total fund management, to work as a consultant. According to the lawsuit, Garchev had departed a year prior after an external review indicated he bullied and harassed Karahasanoglu and another woman.

Karahasanoglu said she went on medical leave about a month after his return, due to a “significant decline in her health caused by the toxic workplace as well as the return of Mr. Garchev.”

Garchev was later rehired to his former vice-president role in June 2021, according to the lawsuit.

Karahasanoglu claimed feeling forced to “choose between placing herself in an unsafe work environment and abandoning her position.”

She said she offered to work with the employer on an exit strategy, while explicitly not resigning. But instead, Karahasanoglu said she was met with a letter of termination with two weeks of pay in lieu of notice.

Karahasanoglu further claimed she’d asked her employer not to share information about her with third parties without her consent, fearing interference with her search for a new job. But she alleged Garchev still made “false or misleading statements” about her to others in the industry, including prospective employers. Karahasanoglu claimed this hurt her chance at finding new work and that she has yet to find another job.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. BCI declined to comment on the matter and has not filed a response to the claim as of press time.