KAMLOOPS - A judge has dropped a series of claims, including defamation and breach of confidentiality allegations against a former Kamloops Immigrant Services executive director who claimed the board chair harrassed staff in a toxic workplace after she and five other employees were dismissed.
In her May 28 decision, Supreme Court Justice Martha Devlin said Wanda Herman was within her rights as an employee when she made attempts to dissolve the society's board of directors and made public comments detailing the negative work environment.
The case came before court after the society dismissed Herman and sought damages for defaming the society and its board president, Bernard Igwe.
Devlin analyzed letters alleging sexual and ethnic harassment on Igwe’s part toward staff and remarks board members and Herman made in articles that appeared in the Kamloops Daily News and Kamloops This Week newspapers. Herman was quoted criticizing Igwe’s managerial style, alleging he once told employees they would be “canned if you don’t do what the board tells you to do.”
Devlin shared Herman’s perspective by noting instances when Igwe took an aggressive approach with her, particularly when he reprimanded Herman in front of a large audience at a TRU event.
"Mr. Igwe acknowledged at trial that he lost his temper and created a scene. However, Mr. Igwe never apologized to Mrs. Herman after the event. I find that Mr. Igwe’s behaviour during this incident is also indicative of his aggressive behaviour towards Mrs. Herman,” Devlin said.
Devlin said critical comments abaout the society from Herman and other employees fell within the scope of “fair comment” and did not meet the standard for defamation. Regarding her alleged overthrow of the board, Devlin said Herman was permitted to do so.
"There is no authority in the corporate or non-profit context that a director who is also a shareholder or member is disentitled from participating in a vote to replace a board of directors. In Mrs. Herman’s case, she is both a director and a Society member. I accept that Mrs. Herman was acting in her capacity as a voting member of the Society and in what she believed to be in the Society’s best interest,” she said.
The judge reviewed an email between Herman and two former employees in which the defendant wrote: "This article was to try to make Bernard appear less the monster and the fool than the last article made him look. You could almost see the crocodile tears flowing from his eyes because we picked on him."
"While I do not agree with the terms Mrs. Herman used to describe Mr. Igwe in the email, I do accept that it was fair comment based on her opinion of the situation at that time. The email was not inviting public attention or comment; rather, it was private email communication between two former employees,” Devlin said.
Kamloops Immigrant Services is a government-funded non-profit society to help newly landed immigrants develop relationships and skills in order to transition in Kamloops.
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