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Former Iqaluit planner sues city

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 12, 2011

Iqaluit's former planning and lands director Michele Bertol, fired Jan. 26 after seven years of service, is suing the city for wrongful dismissal, saying she was "subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment."

In her statement of claim, filed Oct. 28 at the Nunavut Court of Justice by lawyer Raj Anand, she is seeking more than $700,000 in damages.

Bertol, 56, was hired as a city planner Feb. 9, 2004, and promoted March 14, 2008 to senior director of planning and lands, a role that came with the power of acting chief administrative officer in the absence of John Hussey, who "depended on her" to run her department as well as the engineering department in 2008, according to her written claim. Hussey gave her excellent performance reviews, reads the statement of claim, and during her tenure the city won a number of national and international planning awards.

The relationship with Hussey went sour after the city hired a new director of corporate services in September 2008, the lawsuit states. It alleged that with him in place, Hussey tried to "bully" and "undermine" her authority by giving the corporate services director and another, less experienced, director preference as acting chief administrative officer. City council upheld his decision in the spring of 2009.

She alleged Hussey continued to undermine her role in decision-making and excluded her from meetings that were the responsibility of someone in her position. She claims he also created a culture of mistrust against Bertol among city councillors and other senior directors.

Despite this, her performance reviews up to her "abrupt, callous and humiliating dismissal" were "exemplary" and did not indicate she was about to be fired, the suit states. Her dismissal came the day after a heated city council meeting where Bertol defended the merits of a planning proposal, she said. She says Hussey told her she was being dismissed "without cause."

The city has yet to provide her with either a record of employment, a reference letter, or an explanation for her dismissal, she says, which due to her public profile has diminished her chances of acquiring suitable employment in Nunavut.

Bertol is seeking 30 months salary, or $456,540, benefits worth $91,308, $60,000 for losses incurred in the rush to sell her house, $9,696 for removal assistance, and $100,000 for moral damages.

The City of Iqaluit's lawyers, Teresa Haykowsky and David Risling, who practise at McLennan Ross in Edmonton, said the city will be filing a statement of defence before the Jan. 9, 2012 deadline.

"We think the city has done everything properly and did everything it had to do under the agreement. That's going to be the city's position when we file the defence," Risling said without responding to the particulars of the allegations. "The City of Iqaluit decided to bring the relationship to an end, as they're permitted to under the employment agreement."

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