Law professor accuses University of Windsor of hiding documents in defamation case


A University of Windsor law professor who was successfully sued for defamation by a former colleague has filed a notice of legal action against her school, accusing it of “unconscionable” behaviour by hiding documents that would have cleared her.

Julie Macfarlane says the university owes her a public apology and financial compensation for refusing to make available to her documents, including a termination letter,  that she believes backs up the claims she made against her former colleague Emir Crowne.

“I feel like I’ve been completely betrayed by my university, by my institution,” Macfarlane, a full professor of law at the school, said in an interview with CBC News.

But the university is denying Macfarlane’s allegations.

A Trinidad and Tobago court ruled in May that Macfarlane defamed and libelled Crowne, and had offered no proof of her accusations that he sexually harassed, threatened and intimidated students while he was a law professor at the University of Windsor more than six years ago.

The court also awarded Crowne the equivalent of more than $100,000 in damages because of what Macfarlane told his employers after he left the university.

But Macfarlane says she was only recently made aware of the existence of a termination letter that then-university president Alan Wildeman sent to Crowne in 2014.

In that letter, obtained by CBC News, Wildeman writes that Crowne “repeatedly engaged in harassment” of students and a faculty member.

Settlement reached

Crowne, however, reached a settlement agreement with the school that included his full salary for the next three months and just under $100,000 a year for three years. The details about Crowne’s termination letter,and settlement were kept private, leading Macfarlane to accuse and criticize the school for signing a non-disclosure agreement with him.

Macfarlane argues that Crowne breached the agreement by launching legal action against her. 

“The fact that none of these documents were provided to Dr. Macfarlane is unconscionable,” Natalie MacDonald, her lawyer, wrote in a recent letter to the school.

“These documents not only confirm that at all times Dr. Macfarlane was consistently telling the truth about Crowne,  but more disturbingly, illuminate the university’s intentional and active cover-up of Crowne’s behaviour.”

“To have sat back and turned a blind eye to her obvious distress during this time is unfathomable,” the letter goes on.

Macfarlane is now demanding, in part, that the school issue her a public apology clearing her name and state publicly that non-disclosure agreements will not be used in any cases of “just cause” termination in the future. She is also seeking $250,000 in compensation, money to be used for the National Self-Represented Litigants Project, an organization that advocates for the needs of self-represented litigants and of which Macfarlane is director. 

The letter also states that if the university does not meet Macfarlane’s demands, she will proceed with civil litigation against the school. Indeed, a notice of action has been filed in the Ontario Superior Court, arguing that the school “failed to protect her against the vexatious action commenced” by Crowne “despite knowing that [Macfarlane] spoke the truth.”

That action would seek $1 million for breach of contractual duty, $1 million for mental duress and $5 million for punitive damages if a lawsuit goes ahead.

Julie Macfarlane says the University of Windsor owes her a public apology and financial compensation for refusing to make available to her documents, including a termination letter,  that she believes backs up the claims made against her former colleague Emir Crowne. The university denies those allegations and says they are ‘without merit.’ (CBC)

Crowne, who is currently an attorney with the firm New City Chambers in Port-of-Spain and practises law in Canada and Trinidad and Tobago, had been a tenured associate professor teaching in the law faculty at the University of Windsor.

But in 2014, he was relieved of his teaching duties while the university conducted an investigation into his conduct.

That investigation was prompted, in part, by Macfarlane, who said she began hearing complaints from students a year earlier about Crowne’s allegedly inappropriate behaviour toward students.

Crowne left the university in December 2015. In a personal blog post in May, Crowne acknowledged that a “confidential settlement” was reached with the university but said his departure was a “voluntary resignation.”

Crowne was hired by a Mississauga law firm in 2017. That same year, he also became a senior lecturer in the faculty of law at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica.

The court in Trinidad heard that Macfarlane twice contacted partners at the Mississauga law firm and told them Crowne was a “sexual predator,” was a “risk to young, female trainees at the firm,” had been terminated from the University of Windsor for “serious misconduct” and that his qualifications were “bogus.”

Similar allegations by Macfarlane were presented via email to the dean of the faculty of law at the University of West Indies, the court heard.

However, as part of Crowne’s defamation case against her, documents relating to him and his subsequent departure from the University of Windsor in 2015 were made available by Crowne’s lawyer before the judgement.

Termination letter sent

One of those documents was a termination letter sent by then-university president Wildeman to Crowne months before his departure.

That letter, dated Dec. 11, 2014, stated that the university intended to dismiss Crowne’s employment with cause and that his “misconduct has served to intimidate students and create an unsafe learning environment for them.”

 “It is my view that you have engaged in a consistent pattern of conduct that has rendered the employment relationship irreparably damaged,” Wildeman wrote. 

Wildeman references a number of examples which he believed constituted harassing and unprofessional behaviour that were uncovered by a third-party investigator.

Those include:

  • Crowne not speaking up when a male student made an inappropriate comment about the physical appearance of a female student in Crowne’s presence.
  • Crowne viewing a female student’s Linked In profile on numerous occasions with no reasonable explanation for doing so
  • Crowne “liking” certain student comments on Facebook that were  “offensive” to an associate dean and made clear she should be replaced regarding a decision she had made.
  • Crowne “pushing the boundaries of professionalism” by including a real-world example of a student law society dispute in an exam.

In her letter to the university, MacDonald acknowledges that Wildeman never uses the term “sexual harassment” but, in her view, some of these findings back up Macfarlane’s allegation. 

Crowne grieved is his termination, which lead the faculty association and university to agree to a settlement.

According to the settlement, Crowne received regular payments at his current annual salary of $124,000 for three months in 2015.  From Jan. 2016 to Dec. 31, 2019, he was to be paid $99,000 a year. 

The university also agreed to “remove all records of any discipline recommended or issued” to Crowne and that the report into his behaviour was to be sealed.

No reprisal

The settlement also states, however, that Crowne cannot engage in any type of reprisal or retaliatory conduct” toward any current or former faculty member or students who were involved in the complaints against him.

As well, the university also supplied a reference letter about Crowne that states that he had an “extensive publication record,”  and notes that he was the four-time winner of the university’s Professor of the Year award.

Macfarlane believes that Crowne’s defamation lawsuit and his disparaging comments against her, which included calling her a “racist” on his blog, mean that he violated the terms of the settlement agreement. 

As such, the university, knowing that Crowne had breached those obligations, could have released those documents when Macfarlane “repeatedly begged for assistance,” MacDonald writes.

Instead, the school was “deliberately hiding” them from Macfarlane, which is “wholly unforgivable,” the letter says.

In a statement to CBC News, the University of Windsor said that it denies Macfarlane’s allegations and “considers them to be without merit.”

“The university has not hidden any documents,” the statement says. “The university considers employment matters to be confidential and does not disclose employment documents without the appropriate consent, a court order, or unless it is otherwise obligated at law to do so. At all times, the university has acted properly and appropriately.”

Meanwhile, Crowne’s lawyer, Matthew Gayle, said in an email to CBC News that there was no agreement that prevented his client from defending his professional reputation that Macfarlane “has sought to ruin, subsequent to his voluntary departure” from the school.

Gayle has previously stated that  while at the University of Windsor, Crowne’s informal social interactions with students were “wholly appropriate and commensurate with his position as a professor.”

Read more at CBC.ca