Covenant Health fired chief medical officer for alleged "intimate relationships" with subordinates

Covenant Health’s former chief medical officer has launched a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit against the Catholic health-care organization.

Dr. Jeff Robinson fired after refusing to end relationship, Alberta Catholic health organization says

The former chief medical officer for Covenant Health, Dr. Jeff Robinson, is suing the Catholic health-care organization for wrongful dismissal.

Covenant Health's former chief medical officer has launched a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit against the organization, claiming it falsely accused him of breaching a conflict-of-interest policy so it could terminate his employment contract without proper notice.

But in its statement of defence, the Edmonton-based Alberta Catholic health-care organization alleges Dr. Jeff Robinson violated its code of conduct by engaging in "intimate relationships" with employees who Covenant Health claims were subordinates.

When Covenant Health discovered one of these relationships, the statement of defence alleges, it told Robinson the situation could "negatively impact Covenant both legally and morally" and create an uncomfortable and inappropriate work environment.

The court document claims Robinson said he understood and agreed to end the relationship, or arrange that he or his partner leave Covenant Health.

But Covenant Health alleges Robinson continued the relationship.

"Covenant discovered that the relationship between Dr. Robinson and the subordinate Covenant employee continued and that it was having a detrimental impact on the workplace," the court document says. "Dr. Robinson had not resolved the matter as he had agreed.

"When Covenant confronted Dr. Robinson with its knowledge that the relationship was continuing, Dr. Robinson advised that he did not intend to terminate the relationship."

Contract terminated

Covenant Health alleges Robinson's refusal to comply with its policies, including its code of conduct, was a breach of his employment contract. The health-care provider terminated his contract on July 27, 2015, nearly four months after Robinson had agreed to resolve his relationship with the employee, the court document claims.

Robinson has worked continually for Covenant Health, and its predecessor, Caritas Health Group, since 1998. He was being paid nearly $20,000 a month at the time of his firing.

In his lawsuit filed Oct. 27, 2015, Robinson, who was then 58, claims Covenant Health had no cause to fire him. He says because of this, the organization had to provide eight months' written notice of its decision to terminate his three-year employment contract.

Robinson says he "faithfully and diligently" performed his duties for Covenant Health and "proved himself to be a valuable and reliable employee."

Covenant Health acted "unfairly and in bad faith" and wrongfully accused Robinson of breaching the organization's conflict-of-interest policy "in an attempt to avoid providing reasonable notice of the defendant's intention to terminate the agreement," the lawsuit alleges.

Robinson is seeking more than $650,000 in damages - the equivalent of 30 months' pay in lieu of proper notice - or more than $150,000, which would cover eight months' pay had he been given proper notice. He is also seeking $100,000 in punitive damages, as well as reimbursement of unspecified expenses.

None of the allegations in the statements of claim or defence has been proven in court.

Dr. Owen Heisler is now Covenant Health's chief medical officer.

In November 2012, documents obtained through freedom of information by CBC News revealed Robinson had claimed a $110 bottle of wine at a work dinner in 2008. Another Covenant Health executive routinely expensed wine during work hours and while meeting colleagues after work.

At that time, Covenant Health policy allowed employees to expense liquor, but then-health minister Fred Horne criticized the expensing of wine as an inappropriate use of taxpayers' money.

If you have information about this story, or a tip for another story, please contact us in confidence at cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca


About the Author

Jennie Russell

Investigative reporter

Jennie Russell is a reporter with CBC Investigates, the award-winning investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. Jennie specializes in accountability journalism and her work has been widely credited with forcing transparency and democratic change in Alberta. Contact Jennie at jennie.russell@cbc.ca and follow her on Twitter @jennierussell_.