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BC Gov't Faces Third Lawsuit over Health Ministry Firings

Employee says he was falsely ousted and RCMP have yet to contact him.

By Andrew MacLeod 12 Mar 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative bureau chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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Minister Margaret MacDiarmid: Six months after she said RCMP are investigating fired workers, one has yet to be contacted by Mounties.

The British Columbia health ministry is facing a third lawsuit over how it handled the firing of seven employees last year.

The notice of claim filed March 11, 2013, in the British Columbia Supreme Court alleges the government fired Bob Hart without just cause or notice, then repeatedly defamed him in press releases and news stories.

The document also says the police are yet to contact Hart, more than six months after Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said publicly the RCMP are investigating the matter.

The government has repeatedly said police have been notified and that the investigation limits what officials can say about the case.

Hart was first confronted with allegations of workplace misconduct at an Aug. 31 meeting, his notice of claim said. "He was not given advance notice of those allegations, and was not given the opportunity to instruct or be represented by counsel," it said. "He was thereby denied the opportunity to make a full and complete answer to the allegations that were presented."

The meeting was with Dale Samsonoff from the health ministry, Wendy Taylor from the citizens' services ministry and Sarah Brownlee from the Public Service Agency. At its conclusion Hart received a letter signed by health assistant deputy minister Lindsay Kislock saying he'd been suspended without pay during the investigation into workplace misconduct.

That letter said Hart would be given an opportunity to respond to the findings of the investigation and any recommendation regarding his employment.

No chance to respond

Less than two weeks later Hart received a letter from Deputy Minister Graham Whitmarsh saying he'd been fired.

"The Plaintiff was not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations in the Sept. 13 dismissal letter, despite the assurances in the Aug. 31 letter that he would be given that opportunity," the notice of claim said.

"The dismissal of the Plaintiff by the Defendant was without just cause and without any notice, and constituted an arbitrary and willful breach of the Plaintiff's contract of employment with the Defendant and a wrongful dismissal of the Plaintiff," it said.

At the time Hart was 58 years old and earning about $94,500 a year as the director of data access, research and stewardship. In that role he managed some 25 employees who controlled access to the ministry's data, which includes things like information from the pharmacare system and MSP billings.

MacDiarmid has said the case is related to potential conflicts of interest, contracting and responsible data management.

Fired were Malcolm Maclure, a researcher with ties to UBC and UVic, Rebecca Warburton, a co-director of research and evidence development in the pharmaceutical services division and Ron Mattson, a special projects manager who worked on drug intelligence in the PharmaCare branch.

So were Ramsay Hamdi, a senior economist in the utilization health care and risk management branch, David Scott, a senior researcher in the analysis branch, and co-op student Roderick MacIsaac, who has since been found dead.

Matt Brown, the regional coroner for Vancouver Island, said the cause and manner of MacIsaac's death remain undetermined and it could be two to three months until answers are available.

Maclure and Mattson have each already filed lawsuits claiming wrongful dismissal and defamation. Through their union grievance procedures were launched for Hamdi, Scott and MacIsaac.

The Tyee reported in September that the firings included several of the key people who worked on assessing the safety and efficacy evidence on prescription drugs.

Easy to identify

As with the other lawsuits, Hart's notice of claim focusses on how he was fired and the government's public statements regarding the case.

The government dismissed Hart in "a callous and insensitive manner," it said, "and specifically failed to act in a candid, reasonable, honest and forthright manner that was a common expectation of the parties at the outset of the employment relationship."

He was never given notice of any concerns or a chance to rectify them, it said. The investigation team came to the Aug. 31 meeting with Hart's suspension letter prepared in advance, suggesting they had prejudged the outcome, it said.

"The Plaintiff's ability to seek other employment commensurate with his age, experience and qualifications has been irreparably compromised by the public announcements surrounding his dismissal," it said.

Press releases and comments from MacDiarmid quoted in the news media alleged serious wrongdoing, and any "reasonably informed reader or listener" would know they referred to Hart, it said. "The Defendant continues to engage the media in a manner that keeps the dismissal of the Plaintiff in the public eye, and continues to purport the Plaintiff's association with various data breaches by implication."

The document singled out MacDiarmid's repeated mention of the RCMP. "In fact, there has been no investigation of the Plaintiff by the RCMP, there has been no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and the Plaintiff has not been a party to any unauthorized release or sharing of Ministry of Health data," it said.

Mental distress

MacDiarmid said she cannot speak for the RCMP, but the ministry is continuing its internal investigation and continues to share information with the RCMP.

"It's been very complex," she said. "Lengthy and very complex."

She said she's limited in what she can say because she doesn't want to jeopardize the investigation. She also noted the government has to be careful what it says any time a matter is before the courts, but added, "We're certainly going to defend ourselves through the legal system."

It's appropriate to involve the police in a matter like this, since it involves government assets, she said.

In October an RCMP spokesperson said the force was in a "holding pattern" while it waited for more information from the government. The RCMP is yet to confirm that it is investigating, and a spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email requesting an update this week.

Hart's notice of claim says he has suffered "mental distress" as a result of the government's actions. It includes embarrassment, humiliation, loss of self-esteem, depression, loss of self-worth, loss of confidence and inability to make decisions.

Hart has lost his sense of connection with former co-workers and suffers from anxiety, emotional upset and mood swings, lack of sleep, loss of appetite, stress in marital and family relationships, inability to concentrate and memory loss, it said.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, BC Politics

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