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Cloverdale Rodeo workers, volunteers claim discrimination, abuse by former GM

Last Updated Jul 13, 2021 at 5:53 pm PDT

(Courtesy Google Maps, Ali Abbas)

A former general manager of the Cloverdale Rodeo is the focus of a BC Human Rights Tribunal complaint

The GM is accused of racism, sexism and physical abuse

Accusations dating back to 2014 include "egregious" behaviour with women, "blatantly racist" comments

Editor’s Note: This article contains some details of disturbing allegations of racism, sexism and physical abuse by several workers and volunteers at the Cloverdale Rodeo.

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — A human rights complaint has been filed against the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association (CREA) for allegedly failing to address physical abuse allegations, as well as racist and sexist remarks made by the former general manager.

On Monday, an anonymous complainant on behalf of workers and volunteers lodged a complaint claiming they “experienced discrimination contrary to section 13 of the Human Rights Code” over a period of seven years.

The ten-page document filed by lawyer Rachel Roy claims the CREA “has no harassment policy or training for staff or volunteers, and the Association has no mechanism for volunteers and staff to raise complaints or concerns. The Association delegates significant authority to its General Manager without oversight.”

The workers say the association continued to employ general manager Michael “Mike” MacSorely from 2014 to 2021 despite his “blatantly racist view of South Asian people, and ongoing egregious conduct towards female staff and volunteers.”

During that time, senior executives are accused of dismissing and failing to address concerns.

Human rights complaint against the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association by CityNewsToronto on Scribd

For about four years, MacSorely shared an office with several men including an accountant and racialized employee who he’s accused of mistreating by making derogatory comments about South Asian people.

MacSorely is accused of making racist comments about the community when he sat on the board of Surrey Crime Prevention, regularly subjecting workers to racist tirades about his perceptions of the connection between race and crime.

“For example, Mr. MacSorely told a volunteer that ‘if we want to cut down on crime, we have to get rid of the South Asians; they’re all killing each other anyway.’ During his employment as the Association’s General Manager, Mr. MacSorely referred to South Asian people as “carpet riders.'”

The complaint includes claims MacSorely used slurs in front of staff and volunteers — apparently encouraging the crew he managed to make racist remarks about South Asian people and Indian food.

MacSorely was in charge of hiring and is accused of refusing to interview or hire anyone he believed to have an Indo-Canadian name.

One female employee claims to have been physically and psychologically abused and harassed by MacSorely, when she was the only woman working in the Association’s office.

“Every day, Mr. MacSorely would sneak up behind this employee and jab her in the ribs or pull her hair, causing her to jump and injure herself on her desk,” the complaint reads.

“Mr. MacSorely regularly threw large balls of wet paper towel at this woman. This employee was regularly the target of Mr. MacSorely’s extreme mood shifts. Mr. MacSorely frequently yelled at her, sometimes positioning himself so that his face was about an inch away from her face while he was yelling at her.

“This harassment was constant and sustained over a significant period and observed by many people.”

MacSorely is also accused of making sexist remarks around staff and volunteers — routinely using the word “bitch” to describe women.

When he would make sexist comments, he would describe them as not being “politically correct..”

“MacSorely frequently told staff and volunteers that “harass is two words – her ass. Mr. MacSorely would repeat this phrase in response to even the hypothetical idea of a harassment complaint or concern. The phrase became a constant refrain repeated by Mr. MacSorely at least once per month.”

The complaint includes a claim MacSorely called a young female sub-contractor at her home and ordered her to meet him at a bar late at night in 2014.

“MacSorely told the young woman that she had to come to the bar as part of her job. She felt uncomfortable with the direction and refused. The young woman reported the incident to her female contractor employer. On the same day, the contractor told Mr.MacSorely that he should refrain from calling her staff at night. Mr. MacSorely became so irate with her that a security guard had to intervene,” the complaint reads.

“The contractor then reported Mr. MacSorely’s behaviour to both the Association’s President, Mr. Claypool, and the Association’s Treasurer who was the appointed Human Resource liaison, Mr. Spielmacher. Both men showed little interest but, at the contractor’s insistence, both said they would follow up with Mr. MacSorely. However, the Board did not appear to take any further action.”

In 2019, MacSorely is accused of shouting at a young female South Asian volunteer and when staff, volunteers, and a contractor intervened directly, he stormed off.

“The female contractor was concerned for the ongoing safety of the young woman and other volunteers, and immediately sought assistance from the Association,” the document says.

“On the day of this incident in May, she voiced her concerns to every Executive Director on the Board saying MacSorely’s outburst was extreme, threatening “and clearly targeted towards a young, South Asian woman.”

The contractor specifically told executive directors MacSorely targeted her because of her sex and her race. She continued to follow up with the directors, however, the board did not appear to take any further action.

The following week, President Shannon Claypool reportedly phoned the woman and told her she would have to find a way to work with MacSorley.

“Claypool stated that, as long as he was President, Mr. MacSorely would remain the Association’s General Manager. In the same week, the contractor attempted to raise her concerns directly with Mr. MacSorely about the incident. Mr. MacSorely told her that the Executive Directors “had his back and would never fire him no matter what he did” and that she would have to accept that and deal with him or stop being involved in the Cloverdale Rodeo.”

Accusations against Claypool have also been made in the complaint saying he and MacSorely would “conduct and directly participate in the creation of a poisoned work environment.”

Claims against Claypool also suggest he repeatedly made unwelcome sexual advances towards female volunteers.

“In or around 2015, Mr. Claypool sent a sexually explicit text message to a volunteer. In or around 2018, Mr. Claypool propositioned a different volunteer during an in-person conversation,” the document reads.

“Neither of the women complained about the conduct as the Association had no formal harassment policy or complaint mechanism.”

Claims include Claypool frequently complaining or joking about the “#MeToo” movement.

“Claypool stated that ‘no one can have any fun’ because of the #MeToo movement and complained that the movement was ‘out of control.’ On one occasion in approximately 2018, Mr. Claypool commented, ‘Frankly I’d like to get some, me too” while watching a group of Cloverdale Rodeo attendees dancing. Mr. Claypool made this remark at the event where he could be heard by all staff and volunteers in his vicinity.”

In January of this year, the claim says the CREA “went through the motions of an investigation” into MacSorely’s conduct but ultimately concluded by saying it was “undermined by blatantly dismissive and sexist comments from Mr. MacSorely and from the Association’s Executive Directors.”

A former employee sent a letter to the executive directors providing examples of MacSorely’s allegedly inappropriate conduct.

The complaint claims, until the City of Surrey officials brought attention to the letter, executive directors ignored it.

After City officials directed the Board of Directors to deal with the allegations, the Board determined it would hire an external investigator.

MacSorely told staff, the executive directors and volunteers any allegations against him were a “witch hunt” and he would “take care of it.” Throughout January 2021, the executive directors and Mr. MacSorely allegedly made dismissive remarks about the claims in front of staff and volunteers.

When MacSorely resigned in March, he claimed it was for personal reasons.

In the complaint, MacSorely and the executive directors are also accused of making dismissive comments about the allegations adding the investigation was only necessary “because of a group of menopausal women” and continued to call the investigation a “witch hunt.”

“The association has also not apologized or acknowledged the harm caused by the racist and sexist work environment nor has the association taken any meaningful steps to create a safe work environment,” the claim reads.

“The Association has continuously contravened section 13 of the Code by upholding a hostile and poisoned work environment and by failing to respond to race- and sex-based harassment.”

The anonymous complainant adds, as of 2016, all of the four core executive director positions were held exclusively by white men and the directors have done little or nothing to respond to MacSorely’s misconduct or to create a safe and inclusive environment for women and South Asian people.

An email statement to NEWS 1130 from a CREA board member says they are “surprised to receive notice that a complaint had been made to the BC Human Rights Tribunal.”

“It is an anonymous, serious complaint, and we’re reeling from it. We will study this with vigour and respond accordingly,” John Kageorge says. “Our Board, staff, and volunteers intend for our actions to have a positive impact on our community.”

When reached by phone, MacSorely declined a formal interview request, but told NEWS 1130 “I feel bad for what happened” and admits to telling certain “off-colour” jokes when he worked for the CREA.

He also admits to “saying some stupid stuff in the past” and “of course I regret it. I’ve tried to be a better person.”

MacSorely claims no one quit during the time he was GM and after he learned a female co-worker was uncomfortable with him pulling her hair, he immediately agreed to stop.

As for whether he believes he’s racist and sexist, MacSorely says he’s trying to educate himself and hopes this doesn’t impact future employment opportunities.

He plans to represent himself during the Tribunal’s hearing process and says the last six months have been difficult because he lost both his parents, and his main reason for quitting as CREA general manager in March was to spend more time with his ailing mother.