Former employee sues Town of Norman Wells, N.W.T., for $372K

A former Town of Norman Wells employee is suing the town for wrongful dismissal and other alleged damages.

Karel Meulenbroek alleges he was wrongfully dismissed; Town says he had it coming

Karel Meulenbroek is suing the Town of Norman Wells for almost $400,000 in a wrongful dismissal and breach of contract claim.

A former employee for the Town of Norman Wells, N.W.T., is suing the municipality for wrongful dismissal and related grievances in a $372,000 lawsuit. In a countersuit, the town is asking the courts to dismiss the lawsuit.

Karel Meulenbroek claims he was effectively fired without cause in December 2015, according to documents filed with the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories on Oct. 5, 2016.

Meulenbroek is also suing Catherine Mallon, Norman Wells's town manager, for $35,000 in a defamation of character claim.

The Town of Norman Wells is embroiled in a wrongful dismissal and breach of contract lawsuit with Karl Meulenbroek, a former employee. (CBC)

According to court documents, Meulenbroek began working for the town of Norman Wells on Jan. 5, 2015 as the town clerk, reporting to Eric Whitworth, the town manager at the time.

Whitworth left his post, according to Meulenbroek, as town manager following complaints made by Meulenbroek and others. Meulenbroek replaced Whitworth as town manager in an interim role until July 20, 2015 when a new interim town manager — Alec Simpson — was hired.

According to Meulenbroek's statement of claim, the new town manager threatened disciplinary action against Meulenbroek and other managers over their alleged failure to abide by "established grievance procedures" in their complaints against Whitworth.

Meulenbroek alleges this and other incidents amounted to harassment. He claims he filed a grievance but later did not pursue the matter after Catherine Mallon replaced Simpson as the new town manager.

In court documents, Meulenbroek said he hoped for a "fresh start" with Mallon. Instead, he claims his workplace became even more "toxic" as he became subject to a "campaign of relentless harassment" under Mallon's leadership.

Meulenbroek claims the harassment and stress affected his health and judgment to the point where he offered a letter of resignation on Dec. 4, 2015, but which he says he rescinded within two hours.

"I resigned because I was pressured by the town manager and it was a psychological issue," Meulenbroek told the CBC.

He says the town refused to accept his change of heart and insisted his employment be terminated immediately, with no compensation in lieu of notice of termination.

Town counter sues

The town is counter suing, saying Meulenbroek's resignation was legally offered and accepted, so there are no grounds for any claims of compensation in lieu of notice.

In the town's statement of defence and counterclaim, it argues that Meulenbroek was a difficult, disruptive employee who cheated on vacation travel assistance benefits, and generally behaved in an unprofessional manner.

The town further claims Mallon accepted Meulenbroek's resignation when he offered it both verbally and in writing. The town operated on the understanding Meulenbroek's resignation was immediate and therefore his employment was terminated without any need for notice, or compensation, from the town.

The town's counterclaim further states that it had just cause to fire Meulenbroek without notice in any case, and was considering doing just that.

The town is asking for Meulenbroek's suit to be dismissed, with legal costs awarded to the town. In the same counter claim, Mallon's comments about Meulenbroek are defended as not "in any way defamatory."

In addition to legals costs, the town is also suing for $6,730 in repayment of, what it says, were illicitly claimed travel benefits and almost $550 in other costs.

When contacted by the CBC, Mallon said she had no comment. Neither did the mayor of Norman Wells, Nathan Watson.

With files from Mackenzie Scott