Toronto Argos deny allegations made by former strength and conditioning coach

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The Toronto Argos have denied allegations made against the team by a former strength and conditioning coach who filed a lawsuit in February.

Argonauts Holding Limited Partnership filed its statement of defence on April 26 and specifically denied the plaintiff’s entitlement to the damages outlined in her amended statement of claim.

The Argos stated she began her employment on May 15, 2018, on a fixed-term contract for each season, which the team claims is “customary in the sports industry.” Her agreement was terminated on November 30, 2023, in accordance with her contract, dated April 21, for the given season. She earned a $23,000 base salary and participated in the franchise’s group-insured benefits program.

Her employment was seasonal and not guaranteed beyond the end of a season. According to the Argos, section six in the 2023 agreement stated as follows:

At the expiry of the Term, unless the parties enter into a written agreement to extend or renew this Agreement, Company shall have no further obligation to you, including, without limitation, any further separation, severance or similar obligation, except as strictly required under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (Ontario) (“ESA”) or such other employment/labour standards legislation as may be applicable to your employment with Company.

The Argonauts claim throughout the 2023 season, head strength and conditioning coach Usama Mujtaba advised the plaintiff about the need to improve and develop her skills. Mujtaba allegedly talked to management about the need for a new position with sports science knowledge, injury reduction, fatigue management, and data collection “to create interventions for strength and conditioning.”

According to the team, Mujtaba had an exit interview with the plaintiff in late November. He allegedly told her that she needed to “significantly improve her skills” if she was going to be re-hired for the 2024 season. In January, Mujtaba met with her to communicate the skillset she needed for the new role and encouraged her to upgrade her skills so she could apply in April. The Argos claim quarterback Chad Kelly had no involvement in the decision to terminate her agreement and the role change.

The Argonauts stated the team had “no knowledge” about her harassment allegations and any behaviour from Kelly that violated the CFL’s gender-based violence policy or breached the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The team stated it was aware an incident occurred at BMO Field on November 6, 2023. While Mujtaba and the plaintiff were having breakfast in the BMO Club, Kelly entered briefly and upon exiting stated she “was not good at her job.” Mujtaba allegedly met with her privately along with John Murphy, an Argos consultant — not an executive, as alleged in the amended statement of claim. The Argonauts claim she advised Mujtaba and Murphy about a meeting with Kelly prior to breakfast that “had not gone well” but did not provide any details or allege she was harassed by him.

According to the team, Murphy advised her that she “should not have met with Kelly if she had an issue with him” and instead should have told Mujtaba or someone in management with the Argos if she was having an issue with another employee.

Contrary to the allegations in the amended statement of claim, the Argonauts claim she was not told she shouldn’t lead a yoga class because Kelly was going to be present or to avoid the weight room because he might be there. The team claims Mujtaba asked her if she wanted to go home early due to the incident in the morning and she ultimately decided to leave, after having worked approximately three hours since the incident.

The Argos stated she’s not owed vacation or overtime pay, alleging she received such pay to which she was entitled under the Employment Standards Act. It’s alleged by the team she was treated at “all times fair, reasonable, lawful and undertaken in good faith.”

The plaintiff seeks $50,000 from Kelly for alleged Ontario Human Rights Code violations and an additional $295,603 from the Argos for wrongful dismissal. The team stated damages claimed by the plaintiff are “excessive, remote, not recoverable at law or are as a result of her failure to diligently mitigate her alleged losses.” The Argonauts stated the lawsuit should be dismissed with costs on a substantial indemnity basis.

The former strength and conditioning coach initially filed her statement of claim on February 21 plus an amended version on April 2. The Argos filed an intent to defend on February 27 and Kelly did the same on March 13. He filed his statement of defence on the same day as the team on April 26.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.