Former HR Director sues CBC, alleging wrongful dismissal & conspiracy to terminate

Serena Thadani-Anthony, former Executive Director of HR at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), has filed a wrongful dismissal claim against her ex-employer. This is one of four pending wrongful dismissal cases involving the CBC and reveals serious conflict and infighting at the corporation in the months following the Jian Ghomeshi scandal.

The Claim

Thadani-Anthony served as interim Executive Director of HR from January 2015 to December 2015 after her predecessor Todd Spencer was let go following the Ghomeshi incident (incidentally, Spencer earlier filed a separate wrongful dismissal claim against the broadcaster, requesting more than $700,000 in damages).

Thadani-Anthony alleges that senior HR staff conspired to have her terminated while she was on medical leave, and claims that CBC CEO Hubert Lacroix, “failed or otherwise refused to review her matter” in breach of CBC’s policies and guidelines.

Thadani-Anthony is claiming $800,000 in damages for wrongful dismissal, $500,000 in bad faith damages, and $100,000 in additional damages.

The Conflict with Other HR Executives

The specifics of Thadani-Anthony’s wrongful dismissal claim are rather complicated.  Overall, she alleges that she was subject to an ongoing conflict with two other senior HR executives: Josee Girard (former VP of People and Culture and, at one point, Thadani-Anthony’s direct supervisor) and Tanya Lafreniere (HR Director).

Allegedly, just prior to Thadani-Anthony’s promotion to Executive Director, Lafreniere had approached her for feedback about Girard’s leadership style, as there had been complaints made. Thadani-Anthony informed Lafreniere that Girard had encouraged her to leave the CBC and had been unsupportive of her candidacy for the Executive Director position.

Following this discussion, Thadani-Anthony went on medical leave in February 2016, allegedly as a result of medical complications stemming from a stressful work environment. While Thadani-Anthony was on leave, Lafreniere made a formal complaint about her (Lafreniere has since left the CBC). In addition, Girard allegedly directed HR staff to review Thadani-Anthony’s emails and other correspondence in an apparent attempt to find information that could be used to terminate her. When Thadani-Anthony returned to work in April 2016, she was summoned to a meeting with a CBC lawyer who informed her she was being placed on administrative leave due to allegations made against her by both Lafreniere and Girard.

Thadani-Anthony claims that after this, Girard directed CBC staff, including those she had friendships with outside of work, cut of all contact with her.

CEO’s Alleged Failure to Review Thadani-Anthony’s Complaint

Thadani-Anthony filed a complaint against Lafreniere claiming that Lafreniere had disclosed details of the confidential discussion they had had about Girard prior to Thadani-Anthony’s promotion. Thadani-Anthony claims she appealed directly to Hubert Lacroix, CBC’s CEO, to review her complaint and her allegations, but that Lacroix failed to do so.

Thadani-Anthony’s Termination

Thadani-Anthony was terminated on June 2, 2016. The CBC claimed that she had engaged in “fundamental and repeated” breaches of the CBC Code of Conduct, however, did not provide any specific details.

The CBC has filed a notice indicating its intent to defend the wrongful dismissal claim. In the interim, a CBC spokesperson has stated that the corporation stands by its decision to terminate Thadani-Anthony.

What Does This Mean?

As a telecommunications company, the CBC is a federally regulated employer, and is governed by the Canada Labour Code. We previously blogged about Wilson v Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision which found that federally regulated employers have no right to dismiss non-unionized employees without cause.  The Wilson ruling has strengthened workers rights and has essentially emphasized that federal employers (like the CBC, which is a Crown Corporation) must give a cause, such as misconduct, incompetence, or conflict of interest, for terminating an employee. Often, such a termination would first require progressive discipline and providing employees with a chance to improve their conduct, performance, or other issue.

While it remains to be seen what the outcome of this claim will be, and the CBC has not yet even filed a statement of defence, the Wilson ruling may make it more difficult for the CBC to defend this and the three other wrongful dismissal claims it is currently facing.

To find out more about termination and wrongful dismissal, contact employment lawyer Peter McSherry online or at 519-821-5465.