A former columnist with the Edmonton Sun is suing the newspaper for $2.28 million, saying his treatment by management means he'll never work as a journalist again.
Kerry Diotte says he was demoted as the Sun's legislature bureau chief in October 2009 in a dispute with his editor-in-chief. He left the newspaper shortly afterwards.
Diotte is asking his former employer to compensate him for lost wages and benefits as well as medical costs for the chronic depression he says was triggered by the incident.
Diotte's statement of claim was filed in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench on May 20.
"I really don't look forward going through it but I have to fight," Diotte told CBC News on Wednesday.
"They've ended my career, essentially, and I had a pretty good reputation as a journalist and that's worth fighting for."
Diotte hired Robert White to represent him in the lawsuit. White is the Edmonton lawyer who recently defended Syncrude on environmental charges in the deaths of 1,600 ducks on a tailings pond.
Dispute arose over repeated use of MLA in stories
Diotte became the bureau chief at the Alberta Legislature in January 2009 after the Sun moved him from his position as city columnist.
According to the statement of claim, Jose Rodriguez, the editor-in-chief of the Sun papers in Calgary and Edmonton, sent Diotte an email on Sept. 30, 2009, expressing concerns about how often Diotte used Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald in his stories — an amount Rodriguez felt was "disproportionate" to the coverage given to other MLAs.
Diotte was to rectify the "imbalance in his reporting," Rodriguez said in the email quoted in the court document.
That same day, MacDonald contacted Diotte with information showing the government had increased bonuses to its executive staff in the previous year.
This was a story Diotte would have normally written, the statement of claim says, "but given the directive by Mr. Rodriguez that very day, he complied with the directive and did not write and file the story."
The story featured prominently on the front page of the Calgary Herald the next day, prompting Rodriguez to call Diotte and demand an explanation as to why the Sun didn't have the story as well.
Diotte told Rodriguez he was following his directive from the previous day. Diotte says he was then ordered to leave the legislature office and report to Edmonton Sun managing editor Donna Harker.
For a week afterwards, Diotte worked out of the newsroom on stories he felt inappropriate for someone of his experience and standing. One such story was the arrival at the Edmonton airport of stray dogs rescued in California.
The change in assignment was noticed by Diotte's colleagues, who started asking questions. Diotte was "embarrassed to the point of humiliation," the statement of claim says.
Diotte reassigned after meeting
On Oct. 6, Diotte met with Rodriguez in person. Diotte was reprimanded by Rodriguez and then fired as bureau chief and reassigned as a general assignment reporter, which Diotte viewed as a demotion.
The statement of claim suggests Rodriguez also criticized Diotte's work and "scorned" his abilities as a journalist.
Diotte worked the remainder of the week and then took a week off in hopes he would recover from what happened. But he claims he did not. Instead, the incident triggered a chronic depression which required ongoing medical treatment.
"As a direct and foreseeable result of the Defendant's actions and failures [Diotte] has not been able to work as a journalist since, and will not be able to do so again," the court document states.
The demotion destroyed Diotte's "repuation, credit and standing as a journalist," the lawsuit claims. It also states Diotte feels he can no longer work as a journalism instructor at Grant MacEwan University.
The allegations contained within the statement of claim have not been proven in court. Officials with the Edmonton Sun have been unavailable for comment nor has the newspaper filed a statement of defence.
Diotte is considering running for a seat on city council in this fall's municipal election, but says he misses his work as a journalist.
"It's the greatest career in the world and being a columnist at the Edmonton Sun was probably the best job that I could think of in the world," he said. "So it's tough. It's tough to be out of the business."