Wrongly accused of misconduct, founder of B.C. bird rescue group vindicated in court

Delta's Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society suddenly fired Beverly Day in 2014, and accused her of misappropriating funds

Beverly Day was fired by the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society and accused of misappropriating funds

Beverly Day releases a raptor in 2012. She incorporated the Delta, B.C.-based Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in 1985. (OWL)

Beverly Day was in her 20s and working as a construction flagger when she started caring for injured birds in her spare time. She learned as she went and her reputation quickly spread across B.C.

By the time she founded Delta's Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) in 1985, treating wounded raptors was her entire life.

That all ended in 2014, when OWL suddenly fired Day and accused her of misappropriating funds. She was evicted from her home next to the rescue centre and the society sued her, saying she owed it $174,390.

"It was like a part of me was just sliced off," Day remembers. Her reputation was ruined, and she was torn away from the volunteers and birds she loved.

But this week, she was absolved of wrongdoing, when a B.C. Supreme Court judge tossed out OWL's lawsuit and awarded Day more than $130,000 for her counterclaim for wrongful dismissal.

"To be vindicated, it's great" Day, 68, told CBC. "My main thing was, I'm not going to go away. I'm not going to let them get away with this. It took four years and a lot of stress — about the only thing that was good about it was I lost 94 pounds."

OWL treats birds like these three baby barn owls found under the old Port Mann bridge. (OWL Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society.)

OWL's lawsuit against Day centred on the allegation that she was supposed to pay the society $650 per month for her housing — a mobile home where she was on-call 24-7, even on her days off.

OWL accused her of deliberately misappropriating the funds by failing to ask the society's bookkeeper to deduct the rent from her paycheque.

But four former board members and previous bookkeepers testified that OWL had always agreed to pay Day's rent — evidence that was backed up in the minutes taken during the society's board meetings, according to the court judgment.

"OWL's own documents and the evidence of its former bookkeepers clearly demonstrate that there never was any basis for OWL's claims that Ms. Day received unauthorized payments," Justice Paul Walker wrote.

"Ms. Day's employment was wrongly terminated, without cause, because OWL's board of directors … rushed to judgment and assumed the worst possible construction of alleged events involving Ms. Day, having carried out only a partial and scant investigation."

'She was OWL's driving force'

The judge also rejected OWL's claims that Day had taken unauthorized salary increases and vacation pay. At the time she was fired, Day was making an annual salary of $41,424, plus five weeks' vacation.

And Walker said there was no basis for any of the other justifications OWL gave for her termination.

He awarded her 26 months' salary as well as $30,000 for aggravated damages, citing, among other things, OWL's "callous and insensitive treatment" of Day and the extensive damage to her reputation.

"She was more than the public face of OWL. For herself and to the public, she was OWL's driving force. She has suffered emotional and physical distress from the nature of the grounds OWL advanced for her dismissal, along with OWL's dogged pursuit of its meritless claim," Walker wrote.

Day lived in a mobile home on the OWL property where she was on-call around the clock. (OWL)

Day's lawyer, Jordana Dhahan, said she was thrilled by the outcome, and will be seeking special costs against OWL for its conduct during the legal process.

"My client, she's built this from scratch, over 30 years ago out of her backyard. She didn't have the easiest upbringing, but she was just so devoted to birds," Dhahan said. "OWL left her with her reputation destroyed, but I think she's got it back."

As for Day, she says her phone has been ringing off the hook with congratulatory calls from old friends in the rescue world.

"It's nice to be justified, that yes, I never did those things," she said. "To me, it has always been about the birds. It should never have been about the people."

A spokesperson for OWL said the organization had no comment on the outcome of the suit.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay has more than a decade of experience in B.C. journalism, with a focus on the courts, health and social justice issues. She has also reported on human rights and crimes against humanity in Cambodia. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.