Nova Scotia

Final arguments heard in CBRM constructive dismissal lawsuit

Accusations of political motives and creating "rabbit holes" were central in the closing arguments of the lawyers in the case of a former manager suing the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Former manager claims reassignment equated to dismissal

John Whalley alleges his demotion was effectively a firing. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

The lawyer for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality has accused his opponent of creating "rabbit holes" in the "search for Alice in Wonderland" in a wrongful dismissal case in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Lawyers gave their final submissions Friday after a week-long hearing.

John Whalley, 56, is the CBRM's former economic development manager.

He claims the CBRM forced him out of a job when he was reassigned from duties related to port development to what he considered a much more minor role — overseeing the potential move of the NSCC Marconi campus to downtown Sydney.   

At that time, the college move had not been determined, giving Whalley little to do, his lawyer Blair Mitchell argued.

'No one pushed him out the door'

Much of the case has centred on evidence about a land deal in 2015, in which the CBRM bought land from one private company to lease to another.

Whalley attorney Blair Mitchell. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

Whalley testified he had concerns that the deal extended a benefit to a private company, contrary to the Municipal Government Act, and said he was not prepared to recommend it to council.

Mitchell said that's what led to Whalley's ultimate removal from any duties associated with the port, resulting in a "substantial" change in his job, and amounting to constructive dismissal.

Whalley resigned about an hour after being told of the reassignment.

Lawyer Tony Mozvik, representing the CBRM, argued that no one put pressure on Whalley to resign.

"No one pushed him out the door and he shouldn't profit from quitting," said Mozvik.

He has argued that the land deal, and Whalley's concerns about it, are not central to the lawsuit.

In addition to the evidence about the circumstances leading to Whalley's departure, the case also centred on whether Whalley is entitled to severance.

Whalley claims he signed a contract in 1997 that indicated he would receive up to 18 months severance if let go.

But neither Whalley nor the CBRM have been able to produce a written copy of the contract.

Ulterior motive

The case also has some political overtones, with the CBRM's lawyer suggesting that the evidence about the land deal was produced simply to "embarrass some people."

Tony Mozvik represents the CBRM. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

At the close of his submission, Mozvik took a parting shot at his opponent, suggesting a political motivation for the entire case.

Four weeks after he resigned, Whalley took a job as chief financial officer with New Dawn, an organization headed by Rankin MacSween, who has twice unsuccessfully challenged Cecil Clarke for the mayoralty.

Mozvik noted that former CBRM chief administrator Jerry Ryan, who testified as a witness for Whalley in this case, is also a member of New Dawn's board.

"I submit something untoward is going on here," Mozvik told the court.  "There are concerns lurking in the background."

Whalley's lawyer called those comments "gratuitous" and said if there was any suggestion of impropriety, those questions should have been put to the witness during testimony.

Justice Patrick Murray has reserved his decision.

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