Former Yukon government employee says she was discriminated against in the workplace


Elise Pendlebury says working as a regional economic advisor for the Yukon government was her dream job, but discrimination based on her political beliefs led to an untenable work situation and ultimately her termination.

The Yukon Human Rights Commission heard from Pendlebury and a number of her superiors this week to determine whether a letter of reprimand the Ministry of Economic Development sent to Pendlebury in 2020 proved the alleged discrimination.

Pendlebury told the commission that her work in Whitehorse required frequent travel to rural communities in the Yukon. She said her colleagues often made negative comments about those communities and the people who lived there.

Pendlebury said her husband and child would accompany her on business trips after she returned from maternity leave in 2016. The family would stay in their RV and extend the visits.

The government approved Pendlebury's request to move to Watson Lake for a temporary two-year period in 2018.

There she became a member of the board of the local daycare center and campaigned for its reopening after it had been closed for a year.

“As if I were standing on seismic ground”

In July 2019, Pendlebury received an email from the ministry's deputy minister, Eric Schroff.

She said the email came as a shock because, under standard government protocols, a deputy minister does not normally make direct contact with staff at her level. She said Schroff's email raised policy concerns about an email she had sent.

That email was followed by a meeting in September where additional issues were discussed, including an email from the daycare to Watson Lake MP Patti McLeod.

“I got the message that I was not supposed to speak to my MP,” Pendlebury said. “I felt like I was standing on an earthquake and that meant I had to take a big step back from the daycare.”

According to Pendlebury's testimony, her mental health deteriorated as a result of this meeting and she had to take five months off work.

In the months following her return to work in 2020, the planned duration of her temporary assignment in Watson Lake became a point of contention.

And in September of that year, she spoke to the media and published public Facebook posts in which she not only addressed her personal situation but also expressed her belief that Yukon government officials should not be centralized in Whitehorse.

In the months after receiving Schroff's email, Pendlebury resigned from her post.

Schroff told the commission this week that Pendlebury had been an exceptional employee and that his communications with her were intended to give her advice.

He said he supports Pendlebury's desire to be in Watson Lake and agrees that more Yukon government officials should be stationed in rural communities.

The hearing ended this week. The Commission will make a decision on the case within 30 days.