Judge dismisses lawsuit alleging YG reprisal

Yukon Supreme Court dismissed a case involving a former Yukon government employee alleging she was fired because she raised safety concerns at work.

Yukon Supreme Court dismissed a case involving a former Yukon government employee alleging she was fired because she raised safety concerns at work.

Justice Leigh Gower ruled Juanita Wood couldn’t turn to the court because it didn’t have jurisdiction to review her dismissal.

On top of that, Gower ruled, she already exhausted the existing appeal process.

But Wood vowed to continue her legal fight, and said she would take her case to the Yukon Court of Appeal.

“The judge is stripping me of my right to be free from prohibited reprisal,” she said.

Wood was hired by the Department of Highways and Public Works in February 2014. Her probation period was extended by six months in August that year and she was fired in February 2015.

Wood appealed her dismissal to the deputy minister of Highways and Public Works, who sided with the government in March 2015.

She filed a complaint to the Yukon Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board with similar allegations that her termination was payback for raising safety concerns.

In November 2015 the WCB safety officer in charge of the investigation decided not to prosecute the Yukon government. Wood appealed that decision and lost in February 2016. She appealed again but later withdrew her appeal.

In April 2016 she filed a complaint to the Yukon Human Rights Commission alleging she was fired because of her gender. The commission investigated but dropped the matter last October. She appealed that decision, with a hearing set for next February.

Ultimately, it’s not up to the court to review her dismissal while on probation, Gower wrote.

As a government employee at the time, recourse to challenge her dismissal fell under the Public Service Act and her collective agreement.

“There is simply no right of appeal from the decision of the Deputy Minister of HPW,” Gower wrote. “It is therefore obvious that Ms. Wood’s action cannot succeed.”

She originally filed her lawsuit last May, relying on the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

But the act can’t be used to bring private civil lawsuits, Gower ruled.

It gives powers to the WCB to prosecute employers violating workplace safety, something Wood didn’t realize.

She also sought to add seven Yukon government employees as defendants in her lawsuit, which Gower dismissed as “an abuse of process.”

In his Dec. 7 judgment, Gower noted that many of Wood’s claims in her lawsuit against the Yukon government and the Department of Highways and Public Works were bound to fail.

She accused several government officials of malfeasance in public office, negligent supervision, conspiracy to injure, abuse of authority, breach of public trust, and improper use of government funds.

Those allegations were irrelevant to Wood getting fired, and in some cases were not even supported by facts, Gower ruled.

She was fired because of her attitude, not her ability to perform her work, Gower wrote, quoting internal government communications.

The director of the transportation management branch wrote to Wood when she was fired, citing her confrontational attitude, speeding while driving a government vehicle and leaving the worksite without her supervisor’s approval.

Wood said the WCB investigator was a “carpenter retrained as safety officer,” arguing he shouldn’t be the one making decisions about her “legal rights.”

She didn’t appeal the WCB decision not to prosecute the Yukon government because she wouldn’t have gotten a fair hearing, she said.

Had she appealed and won the WCB decision, it would have resulted in a case between the WCB and YG, which she would not have been a party to, she said.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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