A former top administrator with the City of Trail is suing for breach of contract and constructive dismissal.
In her statement of claim, filed Friday in BC Supreme Court in Kelowna, Michelle McIsaac alleges she was subjected to harassment and a “toxic and intolerable” work environment until she finally left in June.
She is seeking damages for wrongful dismissal and unpaid vacation pay as well as special damages, general damages for bad faith conduct, aggravated and punitive damages, costs, and interest.
The city has three weeks to respond to the allegations, which have not been tested in court. Mayor Colleen Jones said the city has no comment while the matter is before the courts.
McIsaac worked for the city since 2002, mostly as corporate officer, but was also acting chief administrator from mid-2021 following the departure of David Perehudoff until June 2022, when Colin McClure was hired.
According to the statement of claim, McIsaac filed a bullying and harassment complaint against four members of city council in February 2022, including Jones. The claim says the complaint was similar to one Perehudoff filed, which was upheld by a third-party investigation.
McIsaac says despite the complaint and ensuing investigation, the bullying and harassment continued, and she filed a second complaint in April 2022 and then took medical leave starting that July.
McIsaac says she was “deliberately excluded” from meetings she should have attended as corporate officer, including strategic decision-making sessions with council and McClure, and that Jones failed to abide by a decision not to contact her directly. She also accuses McClure of “inappropriately blaming and scapegoating” her and other staff.
In September, an investigator substantiated some of the allegations and made recommendations to prevent the situation from continuing. The city declined to release any part of the 118-page report, which cost $89,628 followed by another $28,040 in legal fees.
McIsaac said the city told her it was committed to maintaining a safe work environment and would address the bullying and harassment. However, the following month she believed there would be no improvement and asked the city for severance.
Her suit says city council asked McClure to negotiate the terms but he “refused or neglected to do so.” She further accuses McClure of interfering in her role as freedom of information co-ordinator and privacy officer and refusing to “ensure a safe and healthy workplace” in breach of the violence in workplace policy, the council code of conduct, and the community charter.
Following another medical leave of absence, McIsaac says she returned in December 2022, but worked remotely and limited her contact with Jones.
In June of this year, the city announced Jones was censured by her council over “unbecoming” behavior, for showing “a lack of consideration for an employee” and failing to promote public confidence. McIsaac was not identified as the employee at the time.
In a written statement, Jones said she regretted the harm her actions caused to council and staff and indicated she apologized to council and McIsaac. But McIsaac says her input into the city’s news release was ignored and Jones misrepresented whether she had apologized to her.
Nine days later, McIsaac says she decided to treat the city’s conduct as a breach of contract and constructive dismissal “effected without just cause and without any notice.”
McIsaac’s statement says she was entitled to her annual pay of $123,967, pension contributions, 35 days annual vacation, and benefits. Her contract’s severance clause called for notice, pay in lieu of notice, or a combination of the two amounting to 18 months plus 20 per cent of salary in lieu of benefits.
She accuses the city of failing to act in good faith, causing her to suffer mental distress and embarrassment and is seeking aggravated and punitive damages because she claims the city’s actions were “harsh, vindictive, reprehensible and malicious.”
She is further seeking special damages, including costs incurred seeking new employment. She said she has sought similar work since leaving the City of Trail, but has not yet been successful.
You can read the entire statement of claim here.