Wrongful termination suits add up at Penticton friendship centre | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Wrongful termination suits add up at Penticton friendship centre


Five former employees are claiming they were wrongfully terminated by the Penticton friendship centre, each launching new lawsuits within the past two months.

The first claim against Ooknakane Friendship Centre came from its former executive director Matthew Baran.

His lawsuit alleges he was wrongfully subjected to a sexual harassment investigation, along with an investigation into his financial management of the non-profit, all in an effort to rid the friendship centre of non-Indigenous employees.

Baran's claim was filed in the BC Supreme Court in Penticton on March 7, followed by four more employees. Some also claimed the non-profit's new executive director sought to remove all non-First Nations employees since that is the population the friendship centre aims to serve.

Crystal Boileau and her step son Dante Boileau were the next to file against the friendship centre on March 23.

READ MORE: Wrongful dismissal suit launched against Penticton's Ooknakane Friendship Centre

They both filed in small claims court, seeking $35,000 each for wrongful termination and damages.

Crystal resigned from her position as a family support worker on Nov. 14, 2022, but claims it was a constructive dismissal.

She claims the new executive director at the time, Shauna Fox, made it explicitly clear the friendship centre would be aiming to hire only Indigenous people at Ooknakane.

"All (friendship centre) staff positions will be filled with aboriginal people going forward," Fox said at a staff meeting three days after taking on her role, according to court documents.

Fox also said the friendship centre would refuse service to people who are non-Indigenous, according to Crystal's claim.

Fox later approached Crystal and said her step son's employment was against friendship centre conflict of interest and nepotism policies, according to court documents.

Crystal felt her employment was "coming to an abrupt end" because of the staff meeting and Fox's comments about her step son, who had been fired just days earlier.

The friendship centre denies nearly all of Crystal's claim, adding she voluntarily resigned and provided a two-week notice on Nov. 14. She should not be entitled to any damages, according to the friendship centre's April 25 response.

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The friendship centre didn't respond with an alternate version of events, but it did add that it partners with the First Nations Health Authority to provide at least some of its services.

Its mission statement on its website also explicitly states the friendship centre works to deliver services that support Indigenous people in urban areas.

Dante was a warehouse worker, and he claims he was approached by Fox on Nov. 9, 2022, and instructed not to hand out "charity care packages" to a non-Indigenous person. Staff were handing the care packages off to the homeless, but Fox told him to only give them to people who were Indigenous, according to the claim.

He also claims Fox approached him the next morning to ask about why he was late. He explained he got a second job doing snow removal in case his warehouse position was terminated.

Fox believed his second job was a conflict of interest, according to court documents, but it's not clear why.

She fired him as he tried to leave the conversation and claimed it was because of absence from work and a breach of the employees' code of ethics, according to court documents.

The friendship centre responded in court on April 25 and denied his version of events. Instead, the non-profit claims Dante was absent for at least two days he was scheduled and "shouted expletives" at Fox when she tried to discuss his unapproved time off with him.

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A fourth employee, Echo-Lynn Lyons, filed a $35,000 claim against the non-profit on May 5 in small claims court.

Lyons was a youth program coordinator who resigned from the friendship centre on Dec. 31 following a two-week medical leave. Like Crystal, she claims she was constructively dismissed as part of an effort to remove all non-Indigenous employees, according to court documents.

Lyons' grandmother attended Indian residential school, but she claims she was "not Indigenous enough for (the friendship centre's) new mandate."

She claims Fox held a staff meeting in December 2022 where Lyons, the last non-Indigenous employee, was "ostracised... for not networking appropriately" with local Elders, according to court documents.

From the time Fox started her job in November to the end of December, all four Caucasian employees were either terminated or resigned, according to Lyons' claim.

Tanja Wilson was the most recent former employee to launch a claim agains the friendship centre. She is a Metis social worker and filed against her former employer on May 16 in BC Supreme Court.

Wilson resigned from the non-profit on May 5 after nearly two years, but claims, like others, it was a constructive dismissal.

She made no mention of concerted efforts to hire only Indigenous employees, but Wilson didn't work with Fox.

Instead, Wilson claims she took on extra work while former executive director was on leave, along with another employee's intermittent absence, but she was never compensated for it.

Wilson said that other employees created a "toxic workplace," making inappropriate comments about Baran's absence and sexual harassment investigation, along with spreading other "gossip," according to the claim.

Wilson is claiming she should be granted lost wages for the extra work she took on and damages for wrongful termination.

The friendship centre hasn't yet responded to Lyons or Wilson.

iNFOnews.ca reached out to Fox by phone and email, but she has yet to respond.

Baran and Wilson are both represented by the same lawyer, Scott Chambers, while the three small claims files don't list a lawyer for the former employees.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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