Hudson wins wrongful dismissal case launched by former DG
YLJ FILE PHOTO/JAMES ARMSTRONG
Former Hudson Director General Catherine Haulard had launched a wrongful dismissal case against the town and, following two weeks of testimony last year and a 47-page judgement delivered this week, the judge ruled in favour of the town.
The long-awaited decision in Hudson’s former Director General Catherine Haulard’s wrongful dismissal case was announced June 26 with Judge Mylène Alder ruling in favour of the town.
Haulard, who was hired in August 2013 following the departure of former DG Louise Léger-Villandré (who was later arrested and convicted for fraud and breach of trust after misappropriating $1.1 million from the town coffers), was suspended for two weeks in February, 2015 following what Mayor Ed Prévost described as a falling-out between Haulard and Labour Relations Consultant Judy Sheehan who was hired to help council renegotiate the labour relations agreement with the unionized employees of the town. The disagreement stemmed from a dispute after the price of the negotiation began to climb over $10,000.
Following her unpaid suspension, Haulard did not return to her position though Prévost said she was offered the opportunity to return on three occasions the following month.
“We took that to mean that she had left her job,” said Prévost.
Haulard then brought her case before Quebec’s Commission des relations du travail last November with legal representation by Hudson resident and lawyer Véronique Fischer.
Testimony and request for reinstatement
The two-week hearing saw the testimony of over two dozen witnesses as the judge considered Haulard’s requests to quash her (alleged) dismissal, reinstate her employment with all associated rights and privileges, and be awarded full compensation for losses and damages suffered as a result of the dismissal. It also requested “… the Town of Hudson cease harassment and retaliatory measures against her.” Haulard alleged she was the victim of a disguised dismissal when she was suspended and that the suspension was in retaliation for drawing attention to reported ethics’ violations in the price of Sheehan’s labour negotiation fees.
The Town of Hudson, represented by Dunton Rainville lawyer Orélie Landreville, contended Haulard’s claims were frivolous as they had never removed her from her position and denied having prevented her from carrying out her duties. Her suspension was a sanction for, “…gestures and attitudes contrary to the interests of citizens and the City. At the end of this (suspension) the plaintiff chose not to report for work.”
The judgement cites numerous instances of contradictory testimony on the part of Haulard, particularly in relation to determining the policy of bidding for contracts ranging between $10,000 and $99,999 for which the town would typically require two bidders. After one bid was submitted at a rate of $175/hour by Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) member Lawrence McBrearty, Sheehan was hired at $150/hour with McBrearty saying he would be able to advise Sheehan if necessary.
There is also conflicting testimony on when Haulard raised concerns with mayor and council over the amount of Sheehan’s invoices. As reported in Your Local Journal, February, 2016, “The mayor contends at the point council was made aware the fees had passed the limit, the negotiation period was already nearing its end. Sheehan made her final presentation to four of the six councillors Sunday, February 1 and to the union February 10. The collective agreement for the town’s approximately 33 unionized workers expired October 28, 2014 and the new one has not yet been accepted. Prévost said Haulard opted not to be a part of the union negotiations due to, ‘A personal rift which I can’t explain.’”
Immediately following Haulard’s suspension, she took an unscheduled one-week vacation resulting in a letter from Mayor Prévost which stated, in part, “…your recent attitude by which you notified me on Thursday, February 12, 2015 that you were taking a week of vacation from February 13 to 20, 2015, (during a time) when you had taken on a major activity organized by the City of Hudson, the "Snow Fest" of February 14 and 15, 2015, leaves us perplexed and demonstrates your lack of professionalism and disinterest in the Citizens of Hudson.”
The letter urged her to improve and change her behaviour to ensure the interests of the City of Hudson are at the forefront and concludes advising Haulard if she does not comply, the town will resort to more stringent measures including dismissal. Haulard did not return to her post.
Judge Alder, in considering Haulard’s suspension was only two weeks, ruled it was not long enough for the tribunal to examine its legality in labour law. Instead she based her decision, in part, on whether the plaintiff (Haulard) suffered a disguised dismissal and concluded she had not. The judgement further finds no unlawful interference by council and any alleged threats and intimidation related to Sheehan’s contract are not supported by reliable evidence.
The judgement states Haulard’s testimony, “… appears, as a whole, very unreliable. Although very affirmative, it lacks consistency, and likelihood, and, above all, it contains several contradictions.”
Town of Hudson feedback
“It’s important that news like this reaches communities in general,” said District 6 Councillor Natalie Best. “It’s a disservice if we don’t let communities know that when there are serious issues at hand, they have to be made public and sometimes, yes, you do have to incur legal bills.” Best further expressed relief that the issue was not settled out of court but that the judge determined the charges were groundless.
“We lost a lot of money and time,” said current Hudson Director General Jean-Pierre Roy, who was in attendance for the entire two-week testimony, “but it had to be defended.” He said the town has incurred just over $900,000 in legal fees over the past five years, with about 55 per cent of that in direct relation to legal challenges launched by one resident. Haulard’s wrongful dismissal case is estimated to have cost the town just under $200,000 in legal fees. “To a certain extent, they have managed to damage the town,” said Roy. “(We could have) done a lot of things with $200,000.”
While Mayor Prévost also laments the cost, he agrees the town had no choice in the matter. “We were forced into it. We were proven (by the judge) to be correct in our statements.”
Catherine Haulard, who now works as an interim DG in the Town of Saint-Michel-des-Saints, did not respond to a request for an interview.
Véronique Fischer declined to comment.