Ex-em­ployee su­ing NPCA

NPCA filed law­suit against Jo­ce­lyn Baker on Oct. 2 for break­ing a ‘ter­mi­na­tion’ agree­ment


A for­mer em­ployee of Ni­a­gara Peninsula Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity is counter-su­ing the agency for $400,000.

Jo­ce­lyn Baker, who worked at NPCA for 23 years, is ask­ing the courts to make the agency pay $200,000 for defama­tion and another $200,000 for breach of con­tract.

She filed her law­suit in re­sponse to a suit NPCA filed against her on Oct. 2. The NPCA suit seeks $164,000 in dam­ages.

The NPCA law­suit al­leges Baker broke an agree­ment with it when Wel­land MPP Cindy Forster read an email from Baker on the floor of the On­tario leg­is­la­ture on Sept. 7. Forster’s speech was crit­i­cal of the agency and its prac­tices.

Baker, a for­mer man­ager of NPCA’s wa­ter­shed man­age­ment pro­gram, was “ter­mi­nated” from the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity “without cause” on Nov. 21, 2016. The two sides reached a mem­o­ran­dum of agree­ment on April 21, 2017, which paid Baker $83,964. In turn, she promised not to dis­par­age the agency “ver­bally, in writ­ing, dig­i­tally or in any other form.”

Baker’s email to Forster called NPCA an or­ga­ni­za­tion in cri­sis. Baker also wrote that the agency’s “cul­ture of harass­ment and vi­o­lence con­tin­ues, most re­cently ver­i­fied through an OPSEU sur­vey, which I am con­fi­dent you are aware of.”

Baker’s state­ment of de­fence said the pub­lic was al­ready aware of the in­for­ma­tion con­tained in her email be­cause OPSEU, the union rep­re­sent­ing em­ploy­ees at NPCA, had held a press con­fer­ence voic­ing sim­i­lar concerns.

Reached by phone Mon­day, Baker said her lawyer strongly ad­vised her not to make any com­ments re­gard­ing the law­suits.

Mark Brick­ell, CAO of the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity, said it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate for him to com­ment on a le­gal mat­ter be­fore the courts, par­tic­u­larly through the me­dia.

He added NPCA “has full con­fi­dence in the courts, and looks forward to this mat­ter be­ing re­solved.”

In ask­ing for dam­ages, Baker’s suit al­leges Brick­ell for­mu­lated a plan in Au­gust to re­duce the agency’s in­volve­ment with her restora­tion pro­gram, and that he would have to throw the for­mer man­ager “under the bus” to save it.

Brick­ell was sub­se­quently quoted in Post­media as say­ing NPCA had “un­cov­ered se­ri­ous de­fi­cien­cies in ac­count­abil­ity and over­sight in the restora­tion pro­gram.”

Baker’s counter-suit says that state­ment was made with “mal­ice” and led people to be­lieve Baker was guilty of “se­ri­ous mis­con­duct.”

In her state­ment of de­fence, Baker’s lawyer said NPCA’s at­tempt to re­cover dam­ages as a re­sult of a sin­gle, iso­lated email, “is an act of bad faith.”

Baker’s de­fence points out NPCA has been fac­ing an “avalanche of pub­lic crit­i­cism” in the press and so­cial me­dia. Given that the scru­tiny has come from an ar­ray of com­mu­nity groups and lo­cal politi­cians, it is im­pos­si­ble for Baker to have “tar­nished” NPCA’s im­age with her sin­gle, “iso­lated” email.

Baker’s state­ment said NPCA’s law­suit against her is a “vari­ant” of what is known as a SLAAP (Strate­gic Law­suit Against Pub­lic Par­tic­i­pa­tion) suit.

SLAAP suits are de­fined as court ac­tion in­tended to in­tim­i­date and silence crit­ics of pub­lic agen­cies by bur­den­ing them with the costs and headaches of mount­ing a le­gal de­fence.

None of the al­le­ga­tions have been proven in court.



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