August 09, 2016 - 1:27 PM
KAMLOOPS - The former face of the proposed Ajax Mine claims he’s stuck in Canada with no possibility of working or leaving the country.
Clyde Gillespie has filed a civil suit against KGHM Ajax Mining saying the company enticed him into moving from the United States to Canada for the job, then wrongfully dismissed him.
Gillespie is suing KGHM Ajax for pain and suffering, loss of reputation, loss of future opportunity and loss of income, according to court documents. He’s seeking relief for damages, aggravated damages, punitive damages, costs and court order interest.
Current project manager Chris Wild has previously said Gillespie was dismissed as KGHM Ajax wanted a change in style of leadership.
“It’s as simple as we needed a change,” Wild said. “We’re moving in a somewhat different direction. Really it's about consolidating where we are."
Gillespie was originally hired as Manager of Project Development for the Ajax Project in May 2014. The lawsuit states he and his wife had moved to Kamloops from Spokane, Washington to accept a contract offered by KGHM Ajax.
KGHM Ajax provided Gillespie with $114,000 for his relocation costs, he claims in the lawsuit.
“KGHM Ajax strongly encouraged Mr. Gillespie to purchase a home in Kamloops,” the suit claims. “At the time that Mr. Gillespie was hired, public opposition to the Ajax Project was significant.”
Documents state Gillespie received “outstanding reviews for his work” in increasing public support and improving relationships with local First Nations.
When Warner Uhl was promoted to Chief Project Officer in March 2015, he moved from Kamloops to Vancouver and offered Gillespie the position of Project Manager.
Gillespie accepted the new contract with the company, which increased his salary from $230,000 to $260,000 and a bonus of 35 per cent of his salary.
“From March 2015 until his termination, Mr. Gillespie was the most senior KGHM Ajax employee based in Kamloops and was the public face of the Ajax project,” the lawsuit states.
In July 2015, human resources manager Lisa Fuller allegedly attempted to rescind the new contract, according to the lawsuit.
After her meeting with Gillespie, documents say KGHM Ajax determined it could not honour the new contract without modifying Gillespie’s work permit and obtaining a new
Labour Market Impact Assessment, which would prove nobody in Canada could do the job at hand as well as a foreign worker. KGHM Ajax was “unwilling” to do that.
Gillespie was “disturbed and distraught,” according to documents. He asked KGHM Ajax to fix the situation.
The agreed upon solution was a third contract with new terms that KGHM Ajax believed would not require a further Labour Market Impact Assessment or modification to the work permit. These terms also included Gillespie’s salary being brought back down to $230,000, and KGHM Ajax paying for an immigration lawyer who could assist Gillespie and his wife in obtaining permanent residency status in Canada.
KGHM Ajax had an unwritten policy for terminating employees without cause, including enough working notice depending on seniority, a severance package of one month’s salary for every year the employee was employed by KGHM and a payout of the employees' bonuses, according to the court documents.
The lawsuit claims in Gillespie’s third contract, it was implied he would be given notice and severance in accordance with the termination policy if KGHM decided to dismiss him. It was also implied after Gillespie and his wife completed the residency process, Gillespie would drop any claims of KGHM Ajax breaching the second contract.
A committee made up of representatives from Ajax’s parent company KGHM SA , and KGHM International, confirmed the terms of the third contract but KGHM Ajax “made a conscious decision not to reduce the third contract to writing,” according to the lawsuit.
KGHM Ajax assured Gillespie the contract would be honoured even though it wasn’t in writing, and Gillespie accepted.
In November 2015, an immigration lawyer was assigned by KGHM Ajax executives to help Gillespie and his wife obtain permanent residency and they began applying in January 2016. Documents say Gillespie had no idea the lawyer, Deborah Cushing, was working for KGHM Ajax and not him. Gillespie’s work permit expired on May 22 of this year.
The lawsuit claims Cushing had told Gillespie to stay in Canada after the expiration until his permanent residency was finalized.
“In the period between the expiration of his work permit and the finalization of his permanent residency, Mr. Gillespie was uniquely vulnerable to KGHM Ajax’s exercise of discretion,” the document claims.
Uhl allegedly advised KGHM Ajax to not dismiss Gillespie until his permanent residency was finalized.
On May 24, Gillespie was asked to dismiss eight full-time employees in Kamloops and he did so. Two days later, Gillespie allegedly met with KGHM Ajax CEO Jan Peisert and was led to believe that his job was secure.
On May 27, Gillespie was told that Peisert was travelling to Kamloops to put confidence back in the team, but the lawsuit claims the true purpose of the visit was to dismiss Gillespie. He claims he was dismissed without just cause or reasonable notice.
“KGHM Ajax singled Mr. Gillespie out. It did not follow its termination policy with respect to Mr. Gillespie,” the lawsuit says. “Currently Mr. Gillespie has no job, no ability to work in Canada, and no meaningful ability to leave Canada until his permanent residency has been finalized.”
On June 9, Cushing emailed Gillespie telling him she could no longer represent him in the residency process.
KGHM Ajax has declined to comment on the court case and has not filed a statement of defence. Gillespie’s lawyer could not be reached for comment. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The potential copper and gold mine is currently in a temporary suspension as KGHM Ajax collects information and answers questions and comments from the public and technical working group tasked with looking into the mine’s environmental impact.
More than 2,700 preliminary responses have been submitted, and the application process is expected to restart this fall.
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