Former employee sues City of Terrace

Don Ramsay says he was wrongfully dismissed from administrator's post

A MAN who served briefly as the city’s chief administrative officer last year is suing for wrongful dismissal.

Don Ramsay, who was hired in March 2012, says his June 2012 resignation was made under “duress and through misrepresentations” and so is invalid, indicates his statement of claim for a BC Supreme Court case to be heard next month.

At issue is a June 26, 2012 meeting between Ramsay and mayor Dave Pernarowski at which Pernarowski told Ramsay city council was recommending he be dismissed because it decided he wasn’t suitable for the position.

The city offered, through a letter given to Ramsay at the meeting, the opportunity to resign with a severance package of two week’s wages in return for waiving the right to a hearing.

Under the Community Charter which governs municipalities, employees can be fired if they are given the opportunity to be heard by council and given reasonable notice, or compensation in lieu of notice.

If he did not accept the offer, Ramsay would be suspended immediately and a special in-camera council meeting scheduled to let him be heard, the notice said.

Ramsay, in his claim, said he was not given any opportunity to receive advice about the letter and was told if he did not sign the letter, he would only get one week’s notice of termination instead of two weeks’ pay and that by signing the letter he would be entitled to severance that the city otherwise did not have to give him, Ramsay’s notice of civil claim said.

“Because of the aforementioned reasons and representations, (Ramsay) signed the letter,” his claim states.

The provincial Employment Standards Act does state an employee is entitled to one week’s wages as compensation after three consecutive months of employment.

In his statement of claim, Ramsay says he did sign the letter but was wrongfully dismissed and so “has lost his compensation package for the period of reasonable notice.”

And he says he “did not voluntarily resign his employment as his decision to sign the letter was based on misrepresentation made by (the city) through Mr. Pernarowski which was deliberately misleading and designed to make (Ramsay) waive his right to common-law reasonable notice.”

The city deserves to be punished by the court as its actions were “harsh, vindictive, reprehensible, and malicious….,” states Ramsay’s claim.

When dismissed, Ramsay was entitled to a compensation package which included an annual salary of $133,000 set to increase to $140,000 a year on Sept. 12, 2012. The package included a full range of medical and other benefits.

Ramsay is seeking damages for breach of contract for wrongful dismissal, punitive damages, interest, the costs of the civil case and anything more that the court deems just, the notice said.

As a result of the city’s breaches of the contract of employment and failure to provide reasonable notice of any dismissal, Ramsay suffered, and continues to suffer, loss and damages, including loss of salary and benefits that Ramsay was earning during his employment, the notice said.

In its response to Ramsay’s claim, the city has denied that Ramsay signed the letter “as a result of any representations made by (the city), either as alleged or at all.” The city said Ramsay met with Pernarowski and was told that his performance review results indicated he was not suitable for the job and that a termination recommendation would be made to council. It added that Ramsay was entitled to be heard in an in-camera meeting which would be set up shortly and pending that meeting, Ramsay would be suspended.

The city says it did make an offer in writing to pay two weeks of salary “in return for agreeing to resign and waive his entitlement to the opportunity to be heard….”

Ramsay was told he could take as much time as needed to consider the offer, the city says, but Ramsay “stated that he did not think that having a hearing would make any difference in the outcome. He accepted the offer and submitted his resignation.”

On June 27, Ramsay sent an email to council and senior city staff saying he had resigned, said the city.

Payments were then made to Ramsay of a sum equal to two weeks salary less all required deductions from June 29 to July 13. And the city said that Ramsay did not rescind his resignation at any time following the meeting with Pernarowski. The trial date is set for Oct. 21 in Vancouver and is expected to take three days.