Judge halts ex-instructor’s alleged harassment campaign against his former SFU colleagues
Masood Masjoody, a former PhD student and instructor of math at SFU, engaged in a months-long online campaign against several women in the math department after one woman rebuked him.
Clarification: Since the original publication of this article, we have been made aware of the fact that the judge in the case in question did not make any findings of fact and that the factual background set out by the judge in the reasons for judgment has not been proven in court. The article and headline have been updated to reflect this fact.
An alleged harassment campaign by an ex-instructor at SFU against staff in the math department gained no ground in the courts, which struck down his lawsuit that claimed he was defamed.
In fact, the court has ordered Masood Masjoody to cease his online campaign, including a misogynistic website and a slew of Twitter and Facebook posts, against his former colleagues.
Masjoody filed the lawsuit against Amélie Trotignon, also naming SFU as a defendant. Another 2 SFU employees in the math department, Mary Kropinski and Marni Mishna, also “figure prominently” in Masjoody’s allegations.
Trotignon and Masjoody both obtained doctorates in mathematics at SFU in 2019, and both went on to work in the math department.
But in April 2020, Masjoody’s employment was terminated, and he immediately launched a lawsuit. In the lawsuit, he claimed Trotignon “maliciously started to distribute false claims” about him, while SFU allegedly singled him out for “harassment and bullying.”
In April of this year, the defendants filed an application to strike his notice of civil claim on the basis that the court does not have jurisdiction over the issues and that the proceedings are an abuse of process.
The defendants, backed by Kropinski and Mishna, also sought a court injunction against Masjoody broadcasting his claims on the internet. That application was adjourned, but the court did impose an interim order on Masjoody.
According to the ruling, from BC Supreme Court Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick, Masjoody completed his thesis in 2019 and worked as an instructor from 2018 to April 2020.
Between 2018 and 2020, Masjoody developed conflicts with Kropinski and Trotignon.
With Kropinski, then the head of the math department, Masjoody reportedly butted heads over his assignments or lack thereof as an instructor.
This culminated in Masjoody filing a grievance, through the Teaching Support Staff Union, which he ultimately withdrew in March of this year.
Masjoody’s conflict with Trotignon was significantly more involved. Fitzpatrick noted their relationship began somewhat amicably, while Trotignon attended SFU between 2017 and 2018.
She was a French citizen undergoing a joint PhD program with SFU and Université François-Rabelais, and when she returned to France in April 2018, Masjoody drove her to the airport.
When she planned to return in spring 2019, Masjoody offered to give her a ride from the airport, which she declined, saying Mishna, her thesis supervisor, had arranged a taxi for her.
“Dr. Masjoody was not accepting of this response and called Dr. Trotignon to discuss the matter, at which time Dr. Trotignon specifically advised Dr. Masjoody that his many messages and insistence to pick her at YVR made her uncomfortable,” Fitzpatrick wrote.
This became a pattern when Trotignon returned to SFU, with Trotignon repeatedly telling Masjoody to leave her alone and, in May 2019, blocking his phone number. But he continued to pursue her by email and by waiting for her after the class she taught was finished and trying to walk her to her office.
Termination with cause
In August 2019, she returned to France, and a month later, she filed a complaint with the human rights office.
The human rights office tried to get Masjoody to comply with Trotignon’s only request—that he stop contacting her—but he refused and sent his response to the complaint directly to Trotignon. The office ultimately determined that it could not come to a mutual agreement and closed its file.
In April 2020, Masjoody was handed a termination letter from the new math department head, Tom Archibald, who cited “just and reasonable cause.”
Among the causes were his implementation of an “alternative grading system” for a fall 2019 course, against the department’s policy, as well as failing to cooperate when the department sought to rectify that grading system.
"Dr. Masjoody’s tone in his fall 2020/early 2021 postings is decidedly misogynistic in relation to the female professors and employees."
And in January 2020, he began posting “reckless and unsupported allegations against Dr. Kropinski and other individuals in SFU’s administration on Twitter, including publicly alleging that Dr. Kropinski and the others in SFU’s administration were providing a ‘safe haven for Islamic Republic thugs,’” according to the ruling.
Masjoody argued that the court should hold jurisdiction over the issue, saying Trotignon’s statements were about him as a person, rather than about him as a professional.
But the court disagreed, noting it was “overwhelmingly inextricably bound up with and related to his employment at SFU,” even if it spun out into the personal realm.
Online harassment campaign
As the case was being litigated, in October 2020, Masjoody escalated an online campaign against Trotignon and, especially, Mishna and Kropinski.
“Dr. Masjoody’s online campaign over the next six months would involve substantial and increasingly vitriolic and bizarre postings on Facebook and Twitter. He also created a website entitled ‘FeminaziGate’ and made substantial posts on that website,” Fitzpatrick wrote.
Masjoody alleged SFU’s actions against him “arose as a form of revenge for his written complaint to SFU administration in April 2019,” according to the ruling.
“Dr. Masjoody’s tone in his fall 2020/early 2021 postings is decidedly misogynistic in relation to the female professors and employees who are specifically named, notably Drs. Kropinski and Mishna,” stated Fitzpatrick.
Referring to Mishna and Kropinski, Masjoody wrote about “fake feminists whose death would not bring any sorrow to me.”
He later wrote that “feminazis are mullahs/imams of the western world academia,” adding that “we must make every effort to segregate both of these groups of filth from the human race and aggressively put their underlying ideas through the course of extinction.”
In January of this year, his allegations continued to escalate, with an “odd allegation” that SFU was obstructing justice and tampering with a witness—namely, Trotignon—apparently based on the 2 sharing lawyers.
Throughout that month, he continued posting vitriolic, misogynist posts against Mishna and Kropinski. He also sent emails to their employers, as well as Trotignon’s employer, to level defamation allegations against them.
An ‘inescapable conclusion’
“In my view, it is clear enough that Dr. Trotignon’s complaint about Dr. Masjoody in September 2019 has escalated irrationally into allegations of a complex and substantial conspiracy negatively affecting his employment at SFU, involving defaming him, all said to be toward punishing him for his Iranian report to SFU in April 2019,” Fitzpatrick wrote.
“The inescapable conclusion is that the ‘essential character’ of Dr. Masjoody’s dispute with Dr. Trotignon, SFU and the unnamed persons who are involved in the dispute (including Drs. Kropinski and Mishna as employees of SFU) concern Dr. Masjoody’s treatment at his workplace arising from his employment with SFU.”
The defendants also claimed Masjoody’s lawsuit was an abuse of process, with the “true purpose in bringing the action [being] to advance his online diatribes, which amount to hate speech and, to some degree, promote violence toward them.”
However, because Fitzpatrick determined she did not have jurisdiction, she said there was no need to consider that argument.