Nunavut power utility faces ex-worker lawsuits

Qulliq Energy Corp. is being sued by two former employees who accuse Nunavut's public power utility of mismanagement, distrust and discrimination against Inuit.
Sarah Kucera, left, and Amy Hynes, seen in submitted photos. Both women are suing Qulliq Energy Corp., their former employer, for a total of about $1.4 million in compensation and damages. ((Submitted photos))
Qulliq Energy Corp. is being sued by two former employees who accuse Nunavut's public power utility of mismanagement, distrust and discrimination against Inuit.

Sarah Kucera and Amy Hynes have filed separate lawsuits with the Nunavut Court of Justice in the past year, seeking a total of more than $1.4 million in compensation and punitive damages for alleged mismanagement, breach of contract and constructive dismissal — allegations that the company denies.

In court documents, both women claim their job descriptions were significantly changed without their consent, and say they were marginalized by Qulliq Energy management when they voiced their concerns.

"I feel that what they did was wrong, and I hope that nobody else ever has to go through this there," Hynes told CBC News.

Job roles altered

Hynes, who is claiming $600,000 in compensation and damages, worked at Qulliq Energy from February 2003 to January 2010, mainly as a corporate secretary.

Her roles and responsibilities were "unilaterally and substantially altered" in 2009 after Peter Mackey was appointed president of the power utility, according to Hynes's statement of claim.

Hynes alleges that she was denied information and excluded from senior management meetings that she used to be required to attend. She said her attempts to voice concerns were not welcomed.

"If you didn't toe the line or concede to what they were doing, then you were ousted," Hynes said.

Kucera, who is claiming $444,400 in her lawsuit for compensation and damages, worked as Mackey's executive assistant from July 2009 to August 2010.

Kucera alleges that she quickly discovered a culture of conflict, division and secrecy at Qulliq Energy that she said was created and encouraged by Mackey and human resources director Catherine Cronin.

Derogatory language alleged

According to her statement of claim, Kucera was subjected to changes to her job duties and responsibilities "such that her overall authority and position within the corporation was diminished."

Kucera said she became concerned that human resources policies were not being followed, or they were being applied differently depending on the employee.

Kucera also said she was disgusted by the way some senior staff regarded employees who are Inuit land-claim beneficiaries.

"I had experienced, on more than one occasion, senior management using language that I considered to be derogative when they referred to the beneficiary employees," Kucera told CBC News.

Kucera and Hynes have described an unhealthy workplace environment at Qulliq Energy that made them ill, said Phil Hunt, an Ottawa-based lawyer who is representing both women.

"It's alleged that the new directives of the employer were consistent with a culture of conflict, division and secrecy created and encouraged by the president and the director of human resources," Hunt told CBC News.

Company not commenting

Hunt said he has been getting calls from some current Qulliq Energy employees about possibly filing similar claims.

Qulliq Energy president Peter Mackey, seen at a Nunavut Utility Rates Review Council hearing in Iqaluit on Jan. 7. ((CBC))

"It's saying not just that two individuals are having difficulty, but that something is rotten in the culture of the entire workplace," he said.

None of the allegations made by the women have been proven in court.

Qulliq Energy has filed a statement of defence denying Hynes's allegations and asking the Nunavut Court of Justice to dismiss her complaint. It has yet to file a statement of defence in response to Kucera's claim.

In a statement sent to CBC News on Tuesday, Qulliq Energy said it would not comment on the lawsuits while they are before the courts.

With regard to concerns about the work environment at Qulliq Energy, the utility said there are "avenues open to all employees, union or excluded, to challenge corporate decisions, including by way of arbitration, the Human Rights Tribunal or the legal system."

"QEC will not comment on any current internal personnel situations, as it would be inappropriate and a breach of corporate confidentiality to do so," the company stated.

Union also heard concerns

The Nunavut Employees Union, which represents workers at Qulliq Energy, says two other employees were suspended without pay from the utility last week. One of the suspended workers was also demoted.

Union president Doug Workman said the suspensions and the lawsuits are indicative of serious workplace problems. He said the union has heard many concerns over the past 1½ years about senior management and human resources staff at Qulliq Energy.

"Nobody's making them accountable, and when their feathers are ruffled and you happened to be a worker, you're going to get their brunt," Workman told CBC News on Tuesday.

Some current Qulliq Energy employees told CBC News they feel Inuit staff are not being treated as fairly as non-Inuit employees who are hired from outside the territory.

Workman said there are few Inuit in the utility's middle-management or senior management jobs, adding that he feels the people in charge there seem to be doing what they want.

Workman accused Lorne Kusugak, Nunavut's cabinet minister responsible for Qulliq Energy, of not taking action on the Crown corporation.

"There needs to be some kind of check and double-check going on, and it doesn't seem to be happening — certainly not by the minister, from what we're seeing, and we're not seeing it from anybody else within the government of Nunavut," Workman said.

With files from the CBC's Patricia Bell