By Annie Arnone
As graduation quickly approaches for fourth-year retail management student, Jessica Smith*, job security consumes most of her thoughts—which made the message she received on LinkedIn regarding a networking opportunity more enticing. But soon after, Smith realized she was the recipient of a predatory encounter with a man who claimed he could help her get a job, and then told her to never contact him again.
On Nov. 6, Smith received the following message on LinkedIn from a man named Jeff Payne, who had requested to connect with her one day prior.
“Good morning Jessica, I wanted to take the time to reach out, and say thank you for connecting with me. If you ever want to get in touch, at anytime, please feel free. Have a fantastic week ahead!”
She recalls his initial message seeming “harmless,” and upon viewing his profile, learned Payne was a senior client services coordinator for TSN, and had been for the past 16 years.
“I remember thinking ‘Wow, he works for TSN’—he might have some ideas of where my career should go,” said Smith. “I thought it’d be great to pick his brain.”
“I felt like there was some weird secret.”
Smith responded, excited at the opportunity, and explained that she is “actively seeking roles to begin [her] personal career.”
Upon offering her mentorship, he explained that he wanted to give her his “full attention.”
“I will be looking forward to sitting down with you,” wrote Payne, followed by a time and place in which they’d meet.
Smith exchanged numbers with him and looked forward to their meeting. But one hour later, she received a text from him. “Enjoy your evening,” it read.
She recalls putting her phone away (she was at work) and deciding not to respond to the text—for fear of dragging the conversation along.
Just over an hour after that message was sent, Payne replied with the following message.
“Just pretend we never connected. You are much better off that way. Take care and best of luck.”
Smith said in that moment, she knew something was wrong. “My heart was pounding. I didn’t understand what the hell was happening—someone who I was trying to meet with on a very professional platform told me to never talk to him again. I felt like there was some weird secret.”
Weeks passed and Smith decided to suppress the incident—ignoring the fact that the encounter that started off with what she thought were good intentions turned sour—and then Payne emailed her.
“I just wanted to apologize for what happened a couple of weeks ago…It would be great meeting with you, but I didn’t want to cause any issues with your boyfriend. I have sat down with someone from LinkedIn in the past, and she didn’t mention she was married (no ring on her finger). About 15 minutes later, she received a call and told me her husband was looking for her…take care and best regards.”
“TRSM takes the safety and security of our students very seriously.”
Smith has reported this incident to her adviser in the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM), Sneha Deokie, who informed her that Ryerson was already looking into it.
Deokie did not respond to The Eyeopener’s request for comment in time for publication.
Smith said she was informed that the school would be investigating this matter. It was recommended she speak to Ryerson’s sexual violence coordinator Farrah Khan.
Graham Sogawa, director of the business career hub says this encounter isn’t being taken lightly.
“TRSM takes the safety and security of our students very seriously,” he said. “We encourage students to discuss with a staff member any concerns that may arise when dealing with people outside TRSM.”
One month later while sitting in class, Smith and her friend Alexis Kelly* were comparing each other’s LinkedIn profiles—adding their professional experiences and updating their profile pictures when Smith noticed Kelly was connected with Payne.
“I noticed on her page this guy was there, and I asked her to show me if he’d sent her anything—I panicked.”
With the exception of a few words, Payne sent her almost an identical message on LinkedIn.
“I thought he was being nice, of course I’d take the opportunity to accept help in the workplace. I’m still a student,” the fourth-year retail management student said.
Fourth-year business management student Allysa Manalaysay says Payne also reached out her with the same thank you message after they connected on LinkedIn.
The Eye reached out to by TSN regarding the validity of Payne’s employment. A human resources representative said they could not provide comment on whether or not he is an employee, due to privacy concerns.
Payne’s only response to mulitple requests for comment on these accusations was this statement:
“I’m sorry for any comments I may have given to anyone. It was not my intention to offend anyone, and I apologize for anything I may have said to anyone.”
He did not confirm his employment at TSN.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of some sources.
*The Eyeopener was informed that the school is not investigating this matter following publication.