CFL’s independent investigation corroborated claims against Toronto Argos’ Chad Kelly, including sexual harassment: report

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The independent investigation into workplace harassment allegations against Toronto Argonauts’ quarterback Chad Kelly corroborated three of six claims made by the plaintiff in her lawsuit, according to a report from TSN’s Dave Naylor.

An executive summary distributed to the Argonauts’ legal team and Kelly’s representation this week concluded the QB made persistent advances on his former strength and conditioning coach, acted aggressively towards her during a confrontation in the team’s breakfast room on the morning of November 6, and yelled derogatory remarks at her later that same day.

Copies of text messages sent between Kelly and the plaintiff in September 2023 were cited as evidence of “sexual harassment as defined by the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.” In the exchanges, the quarterback invited the coach to his hotel room in Hamilton and to his home. In separate texts between the coach and another Argonauts employee, she complains of his persistent invitations.

The report, which has not been made available in its entirety, was unable to corroborate claims Kelly publicly accused the plaintiff of being romantically involved with another player, that he uttered threats against her, or that he was actively involved in the team’s decision not to renew her contract.

The CFL issued a minimum nine-game suspension for Kelly on Tuesday based on the findings of the report. The 30-year-old will have to attend mandatory counselling sessions conducted by a gender-based violence expert and undergo assessments by an independent expert to be reinstated by the league. If he doesn’t complete the sessions and assessments to the league’s satisfaction, discipline against him could be modified.

In his disciplinary decision against the reigning Most Outstanding Player, commissioner Randy Ambrosie claimed the 87-page report proved Kelly “unequivocally violated” the three-down league’s gender-based violence policy. The CFL commissioned the investigation in February from Saskatchewan-based firm Buckingham Security Services Ltd.

Investigators found Kelly was not the source of the accusation against the former coach for romantic involvement with another player, despite being “present and participating” in the conversation. They did confirm that a confrontation occurred the morning after that alleged incident and though first-hand accounts from the two parties differed significantly, the exchange contained shouting, swearing, and aggressive gestures. That caused the plaintiff to be fearful and “constitutes harassment.”

Multiple witnesses corroborated accounts of another incident an hour later in the breakfast room. Head strength coach Usama Mujtaba claimed Kelly looked at the table where he was seated with the plaintiff and said “that b**** is no good at her job.” Another player seated a few tables away recalled him saying “f*** that b****” and commenting something about her being fired while exiting the room.

According to the report summary, “shouting, swearing and making demeaning comments toward [the former coach] constitutes harassment.”

Investigators were unable to validate claims that Kelly later told teammates “that b**** is lucky I didn’t hit her” because the player who heard the alleged threat refused to participate in their investigation. When interviewed, Kelly denied making the comments in the breakfast room or uttering threatening remarks afterward.

The report found no evidence the quarterback’s actions impacted the plaintiff’s termination, citing the team’s desire to shift her into a role that required sports science qualifications, as well as a lack of communication between Kelly and Mujtaba.

The former strength and conditioning coach originally filed her lawsuit on Wednesday, Feb. 21 with the Ontario Superior Court alleging wrongful termination by the Argonauts after Kelly “repeatedly sought to initiate romantic connections” with her throughout the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Despite the findings of the independent report, none of those claims have been tested or proven in court.

Kelly recently filed his defence in the lawsuit and denied making “any romantic or sexual overtures” towards the plaintiff, including workplace sexual harassment. He stated she “advanced these spurious claims against him purely to draw the attention of the media to what was otherwise a very routine termination situation.”

In the team’s defence filing, the Argonauts claimed “no knowledge” of any behaviour from Kelly that violated the CFL’s gender-based violence policy or breached the Ontario Human Rights Code. The team also claimed that its conduct with the plaintiff was “all times fair, reasonable, lawful and undertaken in good faith.”

Kelly was in attendance at the Argonauts’ rookie camp on Thursday, which prompted criticism from multiple female employees around the league. Toronto general manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons addressed the media following practice and defended Kelly’s presence on the field, stating the team was adhering to the terms of the league’s ruling, but the CFL said it was the Argos’ choice. He also took responsibility for his team’s alleged mishandling of the harassment claims and stressed the importance of organizational growth going forward.

Kelly’s agent, Chris Lambiris, told 3DownNation this week that his client was “looking into” his options for appeal. The Argonauts open the 2024 regular season on Sunday, June 9 hosting the B.C. Lions at BMO Field.