Second former assistant launches lawsuit against university
News / October 8, 2013
Four employees allegedly fired after accusing McKendry.
By Matt DiMera
Kwantlen Polytechnic University faces more legal trouble after another former employee filed a lawsuit last month, claiming she too was harassed by ex-president John McKendry.
Laura Legg — a former executive assistant to the university’s president, Alan Davis — filed a notice of civil claim in the B.C. Supreme Court Sept. 6, 2013, alleging that she was wrongfully terminated after she informed the university of her intention to testify about behaviour she witnessed by McKendry in another wrongful termination lawsuit filed earlier this summer.
Sandra Kuzyk, a long-time former employee and Legg’s former supervisor, filed suit against KPU on July 26, alleging that McKendry was abusive and violent towards her and that she was fired for complaining about him.
After Kuzyk was fired without cause in March 2013, Legg was promoted to her position as executive assistant to the president. From April to August 2013, Legg claims she was concerned about the university’s “deliberate and systematic cover-up of [McKendry’s] behaviour and its attempt to silence witnesses” and with what she called “irregular and wasteful spending by the Executive, particularly on the part of President Davis.”
Legg says she met with Shane King, a member of the board of governors and with Arvinder Bubber, the university’s chancellor to express her concerns.
When Kuzyk’s lawsuit became public, Legg claims that Davis asked her if she hadwitnessed any of McKendry’s alleged abuse and harassment. After she explained that she intended to testify that she had, she claims that she was “hounded, harassed, and interrogated about what she had witnessed, what she had herself endured and what her evidence might be.
According to the suit Legg claims that Davis asked to discuss Kuzyk’s claim four to 10 times per day. She says that Davis wanted to know the names of other witnesses who could testify on behalf of Kuzyk. She alleges that Davis believed that there were current employees who planned to testify, who he referred to as “moles,” and that he wanted to expose them.
Legg claims that other university employees also hounded her, trying to get information about Kuzyk’s case.
Her suit claims that the harassment led to her becoming ill, and that the university’s treatment of her was equivalent to a termination.
Legg and Kuzyk are now represented by the same law firm. While Legg’s suit repeats many of the claims made by Kuzyk, it also makes several new allegations.
In the civil claim, Legg calls McKendry’s appointment as president “highly unusual,” saying that the university did not “vet, interview or follow any process with respect to his appointment,” nor did it “review or investigate [McKendry’s] previous departure from Douglas College.”
According to the document, McKendry’s appointment in 2011 was protested by the university senate, who twice voted against approving him as president. It also claims that the senate received a legal opinion that the appointment contravened the University Act and that the board of governors could be held liable for any damages that resulted from McKendry’s appointment.
Legg alleges that McKendry’s behaviour was increasingly erratic, violent, intimidating and harassing towards employees and in particular to his executive assistant, Kuzyk. She claims he threw files, documents, and binders at Kuzyk and other staff, creating a hostile and toxic workplace.
Legg also says she was afraid to be alone with McKendry.
The suit alleges that after she and Kuzyk spoke with Ellen Hill, a human resources manager for the university, Hill told them to alternate holidays and to take sick days to have a reprieve from McKendry. Legg also claims that Hill told her that since McKendry’s term was ending on Aug. 31, 2012, that they “only had to endure the abuse for a few more months.”
Legg’s suit alleges that McKendry reversed a decision made by his predecessor to transfer McKendry’s wife, Shirley, to another department to avoid any conflicts of interest.
Shirley McKendry worked as an executive assistant to the then-provost, Anne Lavack. Legg alleges that Shirley secretly forwarded confidential emails to her husband, with respect to Lavack. Two weeks before his term as president ended, McKendry fired Lavack without cause.
Legg also claims that she witnessed McKendry fly into a rage and forbid Kuzyk from meeting with or cooperating with an RCMP investigation into a privacy breach in May 2012.
The suit further alleges that in March 2013, more than six months after he left KPU, McKendry requested and was paid an additional $18,000.
KPU filed a response to Legg’s civil claim on Oct. 1. The university claims that it followed its internal policies and addressed all complaints as they were made.
Davis claims that his conversations with Legg about Kuzyk’s lawsuit were always professional and respectful. The university also claims that Legg never filed any complaints about Davis’ behaviour.
While the university’s response denies the majority Legg’s allegations, it doesn’t specifically address Legg’s claims about Shirley McKendry, the alleged additional $18,000 payment to John McKendry, the alleged interference with the RCMP investigation, and the alleged wasteful spending by the executive. However, it does call them, “irrelevant, scandalous, frivolous or vexatious.”
The university’s written response also argues that the court has no jurisdiction over Kuzyk’s claim and that it should be handled by WorkSafeBC.
The university’s response denies that Davis, McKendry, or other employees abused, harassed, coerced, intimidated or otherwise treated Legg improperly. It also denies that any employees were fired for raising concerns about McKendry. KPU claims that Legg resigned voluntarily.
Legg is seeking general damages, damages for breach of contract, aggravated damages, punitive damages, interest and costs.
None of the claims have been proven in court.
The university’s spokesperson, Joanne Saunders, declined to comment on the case.