Home Workplace News Former Thessalon First Nation director suing band for $850,000, seeking wrongful termination and punitive damages

Former Thessalon First Nation director suing band for $850,000, seeking wrongful termination and punitive damages

by Local Journalism Initiative
By Kyle Darbyson | Sault Star

A long-time employee of Thessalon First Nation (TFN) is suing the community’s leadership for wrongful termination ($750,000) and punitive damages ($100,000) in the wake of last November’s election.

Mary Jane Wardell, who began working for the TFN band in 1991, filed her statement of claim in Sault Ste. Marie provincial court in February, alleging that members of the newly elected chief and council removed her as director of operations “for cause where there was no such cause.”

Wardell also claims the administration’s “outrageous” conduct during this period, which includes allegedly circulating false information about her online, has impeded her ability to find a new job and resulted in prolonged emotional distress.

“The Plaintiff has taken and continues to take to the present day, appropriate and actionable steps to mitigate her damages flowing from her wrongful termination,” the statement of claim reads.

“The Plaintiff has made best efforts to secure a comparable position of employment to that which she had with the First Nation and has been entirely unsuccessful to date.”

Wardell claims that her wrongful termination took place immediately following the Nov. 17 election, which resulted in the election of Chief Joseph Wabigwan and several new members of council.

The following evening, Wardell alleges that Wabigwan and newly-elected councillor Robert Simon Sr. attended her residence to deliver an envelope in person, with several other band members and OPP officers parked outside.

“The envelope was not given to the Plaintiff, as the Plaintiff’s sister, given the hour and the aggressive nature of the attendance, quite reasonably refused to wake the Plaintiff,” the statement of claim reads.

Throughout the next couple days, Wardell claims that an email and a social media post had been circulated informing members of her termination, even though she hadn’t been notified of this firing directly.

When Wardell reported to the band office on Nov. 22, she was given a termination letter and asked to vacate the premises with some personal items.

Wardell said she believes that her firing is completely without justification, arguing that she “did not have a history of formal disciplinary action against her” before the termination.

“The First Nation, as an employer, conducted itself in an unfair, malicious and unreasonable manner in terminating the Plaintiff and therefore the Plaintiff is entitled to damages flowing from her wrongful termination,” the statement reads.

Outside of being fired without proper justification, Wardell also claims that the current administration’s “unprofessional” conduct during this period constitutes a separate actionable wrong.

This alleged inappropriate conduct includes a “planned” and “orchestrated” effort to sully her reputation in the community, thereby making future employment difficult to find.

Wardell said she believes this administration’s intentions are made clear through a private Facebook group, which was allegedly used to post and spread false information about the former director of operations and her family.

One of the creators of this alleged private Facebook group, according to Wardell, is Lesley Boulrice, who currently serves as TFN’s executive director under Chief Wabigwan.

As a result of the administration’s alleged actions at the time of her termination, Wardell claims she is still being subjected to public backlash and online harassment, adding “emotional damages” to her “precarious financial” circumstances.

While TFN hadn’t filed a statement of defence as of Monday, the administration’s legal representation from Kastner Ko LLP did submit a notice of intent to defend in mid February.

When reached for comment via email, Wabigwan told The Sault Star that “Thessalon First Nation disputes her claim but does not comment on matters that are before the courts.”

Outside of Wardell’s lawsuit, TFN officials are also being taken to federal court over claims that they blocked the proper election appeals process following last November’s election.

Instead of going to the appointed election appeal board for review, as outlined in section 7.2 of the community’s election code, a pair of TFN voters attest that their appeals were intercepted by a member of the new administration and ignored.

TFN has since filed affidavits in response to this case, claiming that the appeal board appointed for the Nov. 17 election was not legitimate due to its members never being confirmed through a resolution or signed minutes.

Because of these alleged discrepancies, Boulrice sought permission to install one Carol Bobiwash to review the appeals that were submitted following the election. 

Wabigwan and his council approved Bobiwash’s appointment during a Nov. 27 meeting, according to documents attached to Boulrice’s affidavit. 

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