Pallister’s ex-communications boss sues for wrongful dismissal

The former head of Premier Brian Pallister's communications staff, who was let go last summer, is suing for wrongful dismissal.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/04/2021 (596 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The former head of Premier Brian Pallister’s communications staff, who was let go last summer, is suing for wrongful dismissal.

Deborah Young, who was hired by Pallister’s office in March 2019, says in a statement of claim filed in Court of Queen’s Bench that her employer’s conduct “was malicious, high-handed and untruthful” and that she was let go without warning or just cause.

“Throughout her employment with the defendant, (Young) performed her duties competently, faithfully and diligently,” the lawsuit, which was filed on April 1, states. “At no time was she disciplined in any way.”

Deborah Young started working for Premier Brian Pallister in 2019 as a political appointee. She was the third such director for the premier. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Young, was 55 at the time of her dismissal. She had been a communicator in the Filmon government more than 20 years ago. She worked as vice-president of marketing and communications for 17 years at Investors Group before taking a job as a communications instructor at Red River College in 2018.

She has a master’s degree in communications from Royal Roads University in Victoria, and a bachelor’s degree in arts from the University of Manitoba.

When Young went to work for Pallister in 2019 as a political appointee, she was one of several such directors for the premier, who’d been in power for three years at that time.

Court documents said Young had a “reasonable expectation” of being employed as media relations director or a similar role under the current government until 2023 — the next scheduled provincial election.

Her seven-page statement of claim seeks a “declaration” that she was wrongfully dismissed, damages for wrongful dismissal as well as special, aggravated and punitive damages and court costs.

Young’s claim said she started working for the province as assistant director of communications, with an annual salary range of $82,480 to $101,996, on Mar. 11, 2019.

She was promoted to director of communications and stakeholder relations by an order in council on April 17, 2019. The clerk of the executive council was authorized to enter into an employment agreement with Young. On May 14, 2019, their agreement raised her basic annual salary to $141,262.

Less than seven months later, Young’s employer “unilaterally diminished” her level of responsibility and lines of reporting — in effect, constructively dismissing her, the lawsuit says. On Dec. 3, 2019, she learned she was being demoted to manager of media relations. She tendered her resignation.

Young was “induced” to withdraw the resignation, her lawsuit says. She was promised long-term employment “as a proven, hardworking, respected and valuable member of the premier’s communication team, albeit it with diminished responsibilities and different reporting lines.”

Young accepted the revised terms of her employment. The May 14, 2019, contract she’d signed was terminated, and on Jan. 15, 2020, a new order in council appointed her to the position of director of media relations with a salary range of $122,008 to $146,690 a year. Despite the order in council appointment, the clerk of the executive council failed to enter into a new employment agreement with Young — a breach of the employer’s duty to act in good faith, the statement of claim says.

Deborah Young was let go in July 2020 along with Leah Hextall, director of events and multimedia on Pallister's communications staff. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

On July 27, Young was terminated without warning or just cause, the lawsuit claims. It accuses her employer of “deliberately and knowingly misrepresenting” the expected duration of her employment to get her to accept a demotion. She was offered six weeks of pay in lieu of notice, plus four weeks of pay for her full year of continuous service. Her statement of claim says she should have been given reasonable notice that reflected her age, the “senior-level nature and character of her employment,” the scarcity of similar employment, the economic climate in light of the COVID-19 pandemic at the date of dismissal, and her reasonable expectation that she’d be working for Pallister’s communications team until 2023.

A statement of defence has not yet been filed. The Pallister government’s director of media relations and issues management said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of any such wrongful dismissal suit. Blake Robert said in an email that “the government cannot provide comment on any such matter that is currently before the courts.”

Young was let go in late July along with Leah Hextall, director of events and multimedia on Pallister’s communications staff. Hextall had worked for the government since 2017. Hextall told the Free Press at the time that she didn’t have a lot to say about her departure “except that I’m thankful for the experience and wish everyone at the province the best of luck.”

Last summer, the premier said the departures of Young and Hextall were part of some “difficult changes” that had to be made.

“I thank everyone who has worked with us but there are changes that have to be made sometimes, and they’re difficult changes to make and we’ve made some,” Pallister said.

Asked by the Free Press in July whether he was looking for a new communications approach, the premier said: “I coached for a few years. I know that the hardest part about that to me was making lineups. I’ll just leave it there.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

History

Updated on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 8:47 PM CDT: Updates number of directors.

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