A former top official at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. is suing her former bosses for wrongful dismissal, alleging she was harassed and bullied on the job.
Elaine Peaston, the deputy registrar of the college’s legal department, names college registrar Dr. Heidi Oetter and Michael Epp, the chief operating officer, as defendants along with the college.
She says that in the spring of 2009, as a result of a significant increase in work hours and responsibilities, she began to experience depression and stress and felt generally overwhelmed.
In a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court, Peaston says her doctor wrote a note to the college stating that for medical reasons she needed to limit her work schedule.
Oetter and the college ignored the note and refused to accommodate her medical needs, says Peaston, who was hired by the college initially in 1994 and became a deputy registrar in 2004.
In January 2010, her condition had not improved, another medical letter was sent to the college and she provided “considerable detail” about her issues, thereby exposing her vulnerabilities in expectation Oetter wouldn’t harass or bully her, she says.
The college, the regulatory body for B.C.’s doctors, still refused to accommodate her medical problems and in the summer of 2011, the workload increased and she had to cancel her holidays.
She sought legal advice on how to deal with what she calls the “growing culture” within the college of hostility directed by other departments at her department.
Then a dispute arose over staffing levels and she asked whether Oetter was trying to get rid of her but was told everything was fine, she says.
Concerns came up about a performance evaluation that Peaston said was “devastating” and inconsistent with assessments and comments from other college officials.
A former president of the college described Oetter’s conduct as bullying, she says.
The writ describes what it calls ongoing harassment, bullying and intentional infliction of mental distress from January to June 2012.
Oetter and Epp directed resources away from the legal department, leading to two stress leaves, it says.
The stress was exacerbated by sexual and non-sexual harassment by a staff member of a female employee of the legal department.
While the harassed employee did not report the incidents due to the environment created by Oetter and Epp, others did report it but nothing was done, says the writ.
Peaston met with Epp to discuss the reductions and was advised that “When Heidi asks you to jump, the only question is how high,” the plaintiff says.
On June 8, 2012, she says she suffered a breakdown and took medical leave.
She was told that she could remain on the job part-time but to stay in her current job she’d have to work more hours, an assertion that caused her “great distress.”
At the direction of Oetter and Epp, the college blocked her access to her work computer network, including her emails and disconnected her voice-mail access to her cellphone, she says.
She filed a complaint that she’d been bullied and harassed and an investigation was conducted but the college did not disclose the results, she says.
“The court will be asked to draw the reasonable inference that the complaints as made by Ms. Peaston have been substantiated.”
In February this year, she was fired and the college said in a letter that her allegation that Oetter had acted in a manner unbecoming of the profession was “unfounded and irreparably” damaged her employment relationship.
But in a letter in March, the college admitted Peaston had not alleged the registrar had acted in an unprofessional manner, Peaston says.
The “illusory” basis for the termination was devised to disguise the fact that the college’s decision to terminate her was in retaliation for the complaints she filed, she adds.
“As a result of the defendant’s intentional or reckless infliction of mental distress, intimidation, bullying and retaliation, the plaintiff has and continues to suffer from psychological and psychiatric injuries including major depression.”
Peaston is seeking unspecified damages for the alleged bullying and harassment and punitive, aggravated and “moral” damages.
In an email, the college said it was aware of the lawsuit.
“The College completely and strongly denies the allegations of wrongdoing contained in the claim and is confident that it will be properly adjudicated by the court. As the matter is before the court, the College will not make any further comment about the claim at this time.”
Read more: http://www.theprovince.com/news/Former+official+College+Physicians+says+bullied+sues+bosses+wrongful+dismissal/8317003/story.html#ixzz2S3BK99pH
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