Former Norman Wells employees claim wrongful termination, 'toxic' work environment

A former town clerk suing the Town of Norman Wells for nearly $375,000 for wrongful dismissal says he is just one of 19 employees that have been terminated by or resigned from the town in the last 19 months.

Several former employees say that a minimum of 19 employees were fired or have resigned in last 19 months

Karel Meulenbroek is suing the Town of Norman Wells for almost $400,000 in a wrongful dismissal and breach of contract claim. He says that 19 other employees have been terminated by or resigned from in the past 19 months. CBC has confirmed 9 employees so far.

A former town clerk suing the Town of Norman Wells for nearly $375,000 for wrongful dismissal says he is just one of 19 employees that have been terminated by or resigned from the town in the last 19 months.

In October 2016, Karel Muelenbroek launched a lawsuit against the town for $372,000, as well as a $35,000 suit against Catherine Mallon, the town's senior administrative officer, for defamation of character.

In a countersuit, the Town is asking the courts to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that Meulenbroek was a difficult, disruptive employee who cheated on vacation travel assistance benefits, and generally behaved in an unprofessional manner. In the counterclaim, the Town says that Mallon's comments about Meulenbroek are not "in any way defamatory."

At the time, Muelenbroek's wife, Suat Tin Lim, was Norman Wells' finance clerk. She says that she went on sick leave in January 2016 due to stress at the workplace.
Suat Tin Lim is a former finance clerk for the town and Meulenbroeck's wife. (submitted by Suat Tin Lim)

"I was just under too much trauma," she said. "I couldn't tolerate it."

Lim says that she was told that her doctor's note was not accepted and she was subsequently terminated by the town. However, her record of employment she received says that she quit. She said she plans on filing her own lawsuit.

CBC has confirmed similar allegations from nine former town employees.

'People are always scared'

Many of the former employees say that the town still owes them money for unpaid work, they have yet to receive a record of employment since leaving, and that their grievances and appeals have gone unanswered by town council.

Myles Erb worked for the town for over seven years, most recently as its recreation manager. He said that work became a toxic environment under Mallon, who took over as town manager in late 2015.

Myles Erb grew up in Norman Wells and worked for the town for over seven years before being dismissed in June. (submitted by Myles Erb)
"That's when it got really bad," he said. "People are always scared, walking on eggshells, scared for their jobs."

Erb said that Norman Wells Mayor Nathan Watson has also created a stressful environment, and "he's given me a couple of angry phone calls. Totally inappropriate."

According to Erb, the environment became stressful enough that he was forced to go on medical leave.

The town does not have a union that protects employees, leaving many, including Erb, feeling helpless, he said.

"We rely on our employee policy manual. They tell us to use it as a sword and a shield, but we can't, because they don't even follow their own policy. They only do when it's convenient to them."

Erb grew up in Norman Wells, and said that he doesn't want to leave the community. 

"I don't want to leave Norman Wells. I want a chance to state my grievance and to appeal for my job," he said.

"The relationship between the mayor and the SAO and how they run things can be changed."

'There's really no respect'

Another former employee, Daniel Agber, was hired by Mallon and began work in February 2016 as the community's youth and elder coordinator before taking on the role of recreation program manager. 

He said the workplace became a poisonous environment, ultimately forcing him to also go on medical leave due to stress.

Daniel Agber, former recreation program manager, says the workplace was a 'toxic environment.' (submitted by Daniel Agber)
"There's really no respect for co-workers or the employee. It's either the boss's way or the highway," said Agber.

Agber said he was dismissed shortly after he filed a claim to the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission.

"It was affecting my mental health," he said. "It was really anxious to go into work, and you're scared, because someone is threatening your job. It was a really toxic environment."

The day after he was fired, Agber said that Mallon "sent me a letter saying she wanted to sue me for standing up to her."

CBC North has viewed a copy of the letter. In it, Mallon states that Agber has made "a number of false and defamatory statements" over the past several months which "undermine [her] authority both with Town Council and members of [her] staff," and demands that he "immediately cease and desist from making any further unfounded allegations against [her].

"You are hereby placed on notice that should you fail to do so I will avail myself of all available legal options," the letter continues.

Meulenbroek has recently begun posting his criticisms of the town online by creating a Facebook page called "Norman Wells Reporter."

He's hoping there will be an investigation on the town's finances and procedures.

"A lot of people don't dare to state a lot of opinions because of the size of this town, it's now 700 people," he said.

"What I want to get out of this is I want all 19 employees to be made whole… and I want this town council and this town manager to be replaced by a municipal administrator appointed by MACA."

The Town of Norman Wells issued a public notice at the end of June, stating that "recent social media postings issued by, or on behalf of former town employee Karel Meulenbroek continue to express a slanted view."

CBC has reached out to town manager Catherine Mallon and Mayor Nathan Watson for comment, and has not received a response.