New Brunswick

Forestry professor was fired for harassment and discrimination, college says

A professor teaching at the Maritime College of Forest Technology was fired for harassing his students and colleagues, making sexist and discriminatory comments and undermining his colleague’s authority, according to new court documents filed by his former employer.

Maritime College of Forest Technology alleges Rod Cumberland made sexist remarks and belittled students

Rod Cumberland was fired from the Maritime College of Forest Technology on June 20 of last year. (CBC)

A biologist teaching at the Maritime College of Forest Technology was fired for harassing his students and colleagues, making sexist and discriminatory comments and undermining his colleagues' authority, according to court documents filed by his former employer.

Rod Cumberland, who's now a People's Alliance Party candidate for the Saint-Croix byelection, was terminated from his teaching position at the college on June 20, 2019.

Cumberland filed a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the Maritime College of Forest Technology on Nov. 18, 2019, saying he was fired for expressing his views on the forest industry's use of the herbicide glyphosate. 

But a statement of defence from the college, filed Jan. 7, says Cumberland was fired for other reasons, including: 

  • Making disparaging remarks about the college.

  • Bullying, harassing and belittling his students.

  • Setting the clock ahead and preventing students who arrived late to enter the classroom.

  • Making inappropriate, offensive, sexist and discriminatory comments. The college's response to Cumberland's lawsuit says he used the terms "faggy" and "fruity" to describe students in the class. 

Cumberland denies those allegations in his lawsuit. He says the college did not properly investigate the workplace misconduct allegations against him. 

"If it did, the investigation did not meet the most basic standard of procedural fairness," Cumberland's lawsuit says.

Lawyer Response

Cumberland's lawyer said many of the school's allegations are new and were never listed as reasons for his dismissal.

"A lot of these allegations against Mr. Cumberland in our view are completely false and slanderous and have never been raised with Mr. Cumberland at all," said Paul Champ, representing Cumberland. "They're not even referred to in his letter of termination."

Champ argues that because it is the first time those allegations have been brought forward by the school they indicate to him that they were not the reason for Cumberland's firing.

Glyphosate not reason for firing

The forestry school's response to the lawsuit alleges Cumberland began to harass and undermine Gareth Davies, who was appointed to the academic chair position in October 2018, by "constantly questioning his policies, decisions and teaching abilities." 

The college alleges Cumberland harassed Davies because he was upset that Davies got the academic chair job over him. 

"The plaintiff began a campaign of undermining the authority of Davies by sending his 'concerns' and questioning decisions via email to the entire faculty."

The defence says the emails were "abusive, accusatory and unnecessarily judgmental."

It also alleges Cumberland confiscated his students' personal items, forcefully removed their hats and singled them out in front of the class. 

Some of the comments the employer claims Cumberland made in class include comparing abortion to killing animals for management, and saying road-kill meat that's unsafe for human consumption should be given to soup kitchens to "'solve the problem.'"

The college says Cumberland's views on glyphosate were not raised at his termination meeting in June.

Didn't leave immediately

"This is a narrative perpetuated by the plaintiff to avoid responsibility for his offensive and inappropriate behaviour while working for the defendant," say the court documents.

After being told to leave campus immediately once the meeting was over, the college says "the plaintiff did not comply and instead commenced driving around the forestry complex erratically." 

Neither the college's nor Cumberland's claims have been tested in court. 

Cumberland is seeking $115,442.73 in damages, which he says is equivalent to 14 months reasonable notice of his dismissal. He is also asking for punitive damages, a declaration that his charter rights were violated and to be reinstated as a professor at the college.

Cumberland's lawsuit was filed by Paul Champ of Champ Associates in Ottawa. David W. McMath of McMath law firm in Fredericton is signed on to the document as well. 

The college is represented by Stewart McKelvey law firm in Fredericton.

A court date has not been set.

Cumberland began working for the college as a forest operations supervisor in June 2012.

The Maritime College of Forest Technology is located in Fredericton and also has a campus in Bathurst.