It was an Instagram account started by just a few, and now hundreds of complaints and allegations of harassment and inappropriate behaviour at Stella’s restaurants across Winnipeg have surfaced on the page titled “Not my Stella’s.”
On Saturday, several people who were responsible for bringing the account to light spoke out.
Christina Hajjar, Kelsey Wade, and Amanda Murdock are all former employees and said they are just some of the many former and current Stella’s workers who have voiced concerns about their time working at the restaurant.
“It’s safe to say the whole experience was terrifying,” Murdock said. “These statements we’ve made are based on what we’ve experienced. They’re valid, important, and should be respected.”
Hajjar said in an Instagram post that she was fired for questioning authority one year ago. It was her post commenting on her anniversary which sparked the Instagram account.
“Things quickly snowballed and we realized there was a need for a specific account,” Hajjar said.
As of Saturday evening, between 160-180 stories had been posted to the account, the group says, with more sent to them that had yet to be reviewed and posted. They say the reaction has completely surprised them.
“We can’t keep up with them,” Wade said.
In a public Facebook post, Wade said, “While working at Stella’s I watched the company completely disregard an instance of sexual assault and harassment.”
“The CEO was very inappropriate with many staff members. Every time he came in he would grab my cheeks and call me cute, making me horribly uncomfortable.”
The group has listed several demands, including a public acknowledgement and apology from Stella’s to those they allegedly harmed, and are asking for the removal of Stella’s CEO Grant Anderson and other senior managers.
They’re also asking for monetary restitution for current and past employees affected, and for the creation of a human resources department.
Despite their negative experiences, the group is making it clear they don’t want Winnipeggers to stop going to the restaurant.
“We are not calling for a boycott of the company,” Wade said. “We are asking for forward moving dialogue on issues that were presented.” Wade said they tried to reach out to the company a year ago to have similar conversations, but said they didn’t get a desired response.
They are asking people not to interrogate or harass Stella’s employees on the job and to not call restaurants to complain, but to rather call the head office.
The group said it’s here for the long haul.
“It’s not going to blow over, we’re here to stay, we’re here to make these demands happen,” Hajjar said.
Several others have shared their stories with Global News.
Former kitchen worker Steven Bechard says he was fired after he made a complaint about being sexually harassed at work.
“I had my boss come up to me, behind me, and grab my hips and and start to pretend to have sex with me,” said Bechard.
One person alleged that breaks were not allowed and said he witnessed sexual harassment of female serving staff first-hand.
“Numerous times you got two managers … whistling at them, making smarmy remarks at them,” the person said. “You could just tell, every time they had to walk through the kitchen, to get utensils you know, that they felt uncomfortable.”
A third, who asked that Global News only use her first name of Jess, said the regional manager would throw out their water bottles from the staff room and they were expected to work eight-hour shifts with no breaks.
“We were basically told we were stupid and replaceable,” if they complained, said Jess.
Stella’s responded to Global News request for comment Saturday evening:
“Stella’s is deeply concerned about a range of serious allegations and complaints being brought forward in recent days. The safety and security of all Stella’s employees is our immediate priority. We are fully committed to taking every responsible action to ensure a safe and respectful workplace for all employees, and a zero tolerance approach to breaches of respectful workplace policy will be enforced.
Stella’s encourages any concerned individual to report complaints through a safe, confidential, third-party independent process that will ensure a thorough investigation. The Manitoba Human Rights Commission and Manitoba Employment Standards also have clear processes for reviewing and investigating complaints.
Stella’s encourages all those with complaints to bring them forward.
We are actively engaged with People First HR Consultants and will roll out enhanced respectful workplace policies company-wide, in the days to come. We will also deliver expanded respectful workplace training programs for all management and staff in the coming weeks.
We will communicate with all employees and encourage them to engage in this process. This process will provide a confidential and safe reporting structure which assures no fear of reprisal.
Stella’s will fully cooperate with authorities investigating any complaint. We will swiftly and permanently remove anyone within our workforce whose actions are found in violation of Manitoba employment standards and/or human rights laws.”
WATCH: Former Stella’s employee speaks up about sexually inappropriate behaviour