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How a police officer’s social media posts about work harassment led to her firing

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She’s approaching her 10th anniversary as a Toronto police officer, but Firouzeh Zarabi-Majd is in no mood to celebrate. She says she’s resented the years of sexual harassment she and her female colleagues endured on the job, and she’s launched a one-person campaign to make her case public in Canada.

She had sought help through official channels but with no success, so she turned to social media.

For 18 months, Ms Zarabi-Majid had been posting pornographic images and racist and sexist comments she witnessed in the workplace.

She disclosed details of the sexual assault she had experienced and cursed and mocked officials who she believed were dismissive of her allegations.

She ignored warnings from Toronto police.

Ms Zarabi-Majid said she should have the right – just like civilians – to discuss her grievances publicly.

But in May 2023, police officials fired her, saying she was attempting to damage the reputation of the Toronto police and that her behavior reached the level of gross misconduct.

Zarabi-Majeed, 43, appealed her dismissal to the independent tribunal, the Civilian Police Commission of Ontario, which in April sided with police and ruled that there were justifiable grounds to fire her “to maintain public confidence in the police.”

Ms. Zarabi-Majeed is taking a separate case to another body, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, a quasi-judicial body that handles discrimination complaints.

“The fact that I was fired put the facts into perspective for me,” Ms. Zarabi-Majid said. “What were they trying to do by firing a woman who had been sexually assaulted?”

Law enforcement experts say her experience reflects similar issues in other municipal police departments across Canada, which remain male-dominated workplaces where female officers often don’t report sexual harassment for fear of retaliation.

In British Columbia, six female police officers filed a class-action lawsuit last year against multiple police forces in the province, alleging they had been subjected to gender-based harassment and bullying, including sexual harassment.

In Toronto, multiple female officers have filed sexual harassment charges against the city’s police department, and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario described the police force as “poisoned” in a 2020 ruling in one case.

The department hired consulting firm Deloitte to study workplace practices, and in a 2022 report the firm found that 28% of female police officers Investigated Said they had been sexually harassed.

The agency, formally known as the Toronto Police Service, declined to comment on Zarabi-Majid’s case but said it has anti-harassment training and is committed to improving its workplace.

“Harassment and discrimination have no place in our organization,” said Stephanie Sayer, a Toronto police spokeswoman.

Ms. Zarabi-Majeed was hired as a cadet by the Toronto Police Service in 2008 at the age of 27. Her supervisors supported her desire to pursue an investigative career.

But by 2014, Ms. Zarabi-Majid said, she began to experience what she described as casual sexist behavior, which she reported to her supervisors. She began using her cellphone to take photos of pornographic magazines stored at the station.

According to a complaint she filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, male co-workers frequently asked about her sex life and sexual orientation.

She said she dodged questions about her breasts and the appearance of a female officer’s genitals.

Ms. Zarabi-Majid said the sexual harassment escalated when she offered to give two drunken male colleagues a ride home in 2014. When they arrived at the apartment of one of the officers, the two men made advances toward her and threatened to tell their colleagues about it, according to her human rights statement.

Then, in late 2015, a senior colleague came to Ms Zarabi-Majid’s home, forcibly kissed her and boasted about his sexual prowess.

She said she did not immediately report the incident to her superiors for fear of retaliation.

But Ms. Zarabi-Majid broke her silence in 2018 and reported her allegations through official channels, first to her supervisors and then to the police union. (She took sick leave and continues to receive disability benefits.)

In 2019, the police department offered her a $1.3 million settlement, but she turned it down because she said it would require a confidentiality agreement.

She decided to file a complaint with the province’s human rights tribunal. Then she began her public campaign.

“I used social media, started connecting with people and felt alive again,” Ms. Zarabi-Majeed said.

Her social media posts included evidence collected over the years documenting the harassment, such as screenshots of sexually explicit comments made to her by male officers in WhatsApp group chats.

She chose not to attend a disciplinary hearing sparked by her posts. In one post, she wrote, “I will not be attending this hearing,” along with a feces emoji. She also accused a former police chief of coddling “sexual predators,” according to her termination ruling.

Police determined she had engaged in misconduct and insubordination. Retired Deputy Commissioner Robin McElary-Downer, who presided over the disciplinary hearing, wrote in his decision to fire Zarabi-Majeed that she had given the police “the proverbial middle finger.”

“Her blatant and open refusal to follow lawful orders, her verbal and electronic shouting and cursing at her superior commanders, and her callous and unbridled disdain for her employer demonstrate that she is an unmanageable individual filled with contempt and anger,” McClary-Donner wrote.

Simona Jellinek, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in representing victims of sexual assault, visited the police station where Zarrae-Majid worked 15 years ago. She said she saw images of “pin-up girls and homophobic slurs” on the bulletin boards.

“I remember asking the officer who was showing us around, ‘If this had been a straight white person, would you have been okay with it?’ ” Ms. Jelinek said. The officer took down the poster.

Heather McWilliam, a Toronto police officer who started two years before Zarabi-Majeed, said she, too, has experienced sexual harassment, including sexual comments and forced kisses from co-workers.

She said photos of her and other female officers in bathing suits were ripped from Facebook and circulated among superiors.

Human Rights Tribunal in 2020 rulingThe court found that she was victimized in the workplace not because of “bad apples” within the police force, but because of behavior and speech that were commonplace at work. The court awarded her $85,000 in damages, which was about half of her $150,000 in legal fees.

Ms McWilliam, who is currently on paid leave from the police force, said the force tried to suppress her allegations through delays, intimidation and non-disclosure agreements.

“The police dragged their feet thinking I would eventually give up,” she said.The department said the findings were serious and it had made changes in response to the ruling.

As she awaits a decision from the Human Rights Tribunal, Ms. Zarabi-Majid said her legal bills have already reached $240,000. But she added that she is determined to persevere.

Ms. Zarabi-Majid said her message was clear. “If you dare to talk about anything on social media that should be kept private,” she said, “we will fire you.”

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