Kitchener-Waterloo

Former Guelph chief building official Bruce Poole suing city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal

Bruce Poole’s statement of claim says he suffered from a poisoned work environment because he tried to get the city of Guelph to adhere to the Ontario Building Code.

Claims city's executive team created a 'poisoned workplace environment'

The exterior of Guelph City Hall. The former chief building official for the City of Guelph is suing his former employer for $1 million after he says he was fired without cause. (City of Guelph)

The former chief building official for the City of Guelph is suing his former employer for $1 million after he says he was fired without cause. 

Bruce Poole, who became the chief building official in March of 1995 and held that post until he was demoted in March last year and then fired by the city in August, claims he was fired him in retaliation for his repeated efforts to get the city to comply with the Ontario Building Code.

In a statement of claim filed with the Ontario Superior Court on Feb. 11, Poole is seeking $650,000 for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract and an additional $350,000 for aggravated damages, and punitive and exemplary damages. 

Poole "has suffered actual damages as a result of the bad faith and unreasonable behaviour of the city," the statement said.

The allegations in Poole's claim have not been proven in court. 

"The City of Guelph is in receipt of Mr. Poole's statement of claim and is preparing its statement of defense," David Godwaldt, Guelph's general manager of human resources, said in an emailed statement to CBC News. "The city categorically rejects the allegations and is prepared to defend its position in court."

Suit alleges city failed to adhere to building code

Poole began working for the city on Dec. 5, 1984. He was promoted in 1987, again in 1994 and then in March 1995, he was named the chief building official, leading the city's building department.

In his statement of claim, Poole said starting in 2013, he and his staff "repeatedly raised concerns" about the city's failure to obtain the proper building permits, request mandatory inspections and clear outstanding violations under the Ontario Building Code.

Poole claims he sent a letter to the city's chief administrative officer and executive team about the building code issues on July 10, 2014, and the next day, he was called into a meeting where "he was criticized for his activity" and one of the people in the meeting "specifically and explicitly warned Bruce that the position he was taking on the building code issues may have negative consequences for his career."

Poole claims after that meeting, the city's executive team excluded him from discussions on budgets, legal issues and human resources concerns; they maintained minimal contact with Poole and they did not acknowledge or respond to several requests by Poole for direction related to his role as the chief building officer.

Poole said he suffered stress and from a "poisoned workplace environment" and took medical leave between February. 23, 2015 and April 6, 2015. During that time, Poole claims he was demoted from general manager to manager, he was no longer head of the city building department, he had a number of his responsibilities and duties removed from his position and he was told that on Nov. 6, 2016, his salary would drop from $144,121.29 to $124,792.30.

Poole claims during the same time period, the city continued to not be in compliance with the building code for "dozens of projects."

Discrimination allegations

On April 20, 2015, Poole said he lodged workplace harassment and discrimination complaints against four members of the city's executive team: Chief administrative officer Ann Pappert, deputy chief administrative officers Al Horsman (who left the city in September for a job in Sault Ste. Marie), Derrick Thompson and Mark Amorosi.

But Poole claims while the investigator into his claims initially said Poole's allegations were "well founded," the investigator did not interview key witnesses, and "inexplicably rejected Bruce's complaints" and his case was dismissed.

On May 20, Poole said he received his 21st consecutive "outstanding" annual performance review.

Poole fired Aug. 26

The city continued to ignore its duties under the Ontario Building Code, Poole claims, so he issued an order to comply against the city on July 8, 2015, with a compliance date of Aug. 4, 2015.

He claims he was offered a paid voluntary leave from work on July 21, 2015, which he declined.

Poole left for a scheduled vacation after his shift on July 31, 2015, and his staff were instructed to lay charges against the city if one specific building permit file had not been closed.

He was set to return to work Aug. 24, 2015.

On Aug. 21, 2015, the city informed Poole he was being put on non-voluntary paid leave, the statement of claim said.

On Aug. 24, 2015, Poole was told his harassment allegations had been dismissed.

Then, after 30 years and eight months working for the City of Guelph, Poole was fired on Aug. 26, 2015.

"Bruce states that if he had been permitted to continue in his role as (chief building official), he would have continued to hold the city accountable for its building and development activities and he was first demoted, then offered a voluntary paid leave, then put on non-voluntary paid leave and then fired in an attempt to prevent him from carrying out his duties under law," the statement of claim said.

The city has 20 business days to file its statement of defence.

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