Home Featured ‘Not an employee’: Former Mississauga councillor loses bid to sue city for wrongful dismissal, breach of employment contract

‘Not an employee’: Former Mississauga councillor loses bid to sue city for wrongful dismissal, breach of employment contract

by HR Law Canada

Are elected city councillors employees of the municipalities they represent? That question was raised in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice by a former councillor who was suing the City of Mississauga for wrongful dismissal and breach of an employment contract.

The Plaintiff, who served as a councillor from 2014 to 2022, claimed she was forced to resign due to repeated stalking and harassment by fellow councillor. She argued that her appeals for help to the Integrity Commissioner and Mayor went unaddressed, leading to an unsafe work environment. Seeking damages for wrongful dismissal and bad faith, the Plaintiff requested more than $500,000 in compensation.

The Defendant, the City of Mississauga, argued successfully that the Plaintiff, an elected Councillor, was not an employee of the city. Consequently, the court struck down the claims of constructive dismissal and breach of an employment contract from the Statement of Claim. However, the court did not dismiss the action entirely, allowing the Plaintiff to amend her Statement of Claim, though the city has the option to challenge further.

The court’s decision hinged on the legal status of a City Councillor. Citing established municipal law principles, the court affirmed that City Councillors are not employees of a municipal corporation. This distinction was crucial in determining the inapplicability of employment-based claims.

Additionally, legislative provisions under the Municipal Act, 2001, and the Municipal Elections Act, 1996, further solidified this position.

The Plaintiff’s interpretation of various definitions and policies was challenged by the court. For instance, the city’s Respectful Workplace policy, which refers to elected councillors as employees, was deemed a simplification of language rather than a legal definition conferring employment status.

The court also rejected the Plaintiff’s argument that she was a dependent contractor, noting that this claim was not pleaded in her Statement of Claim. The factual matrix, including the lack of control the city had over the Councillor’s selection, control, and dismissal, indicated no employment relationship.

In conclusion, the court’s decision underscores the unique legal status of elected municipal councillors and clarifies the limitations of employment-based legal claims in such roles.

“There is a statutory framework which excludes employees from being elected as a City Councillor, and the factual matrix does not indicate an employment relationship, it is plain and obvious that the Plaintiff was not an employee of the Defendant,” the court said.

“Therefore, the Plaintiff’s claim, which is framed in employment, discloses no reasonable cause of action as against the Defendant and also has no reasonable prospect of success in that regard.”

The Plaintiff, while granted the opportunity to amend her claim, faces the challenge of restructuring her legal approach in light of the court’s findings.

The City of Mississauga was awarded costs of $18,398.72.

For more information, see Ras v. Corporation of the City of Mississauga and Ron Starr, 2023 ONSC 7102 (CanLII)

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