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.