The former director of planning and development for Kentville is suing the town alleging wrongful dismissal that caused her “mental distress, humilation, and embarrassment.”
Beverly Gentleman was employed as the director of planning and development for the town from June 20, 2005 to Oct. 14, 2022.
Gentleman’s lawyer, Randall P.H. Balcome, filed a notice of action against the Town of Kentville on Oct. 12, 2023.
According to that notice, Gentleman was told about her termination on Oct. 17, 2022, and that she was being let go for “just cause” as the result of her “involvement with complaints from Town staff regarding the activities and actions of certain Town council members and the behaviour of certain council members regarding Town staff.”
Gentleman alleges she was not offered or did not receive any form of severance pay from the town.
The town hasn’t filed a defence and none of Gentleman’s allegations have been tested in court.
In the statement of claim, Gentleman alleges there was no just cause for her termination without notice, but that her firing was because of “ulterior and irrelevant causes and reasons clearly not amounting to ‘just cause.'”
Gentleman alleges that her termination caused “mental distress, humiliation, and embarrassment.”
Gentleman further alleges that the real reason for her termination, which wasn’t disclosed to her, was that her firing was an act of retaliation by Kentville Mayor Sandra Snow for Gentleman’s “assisting a former Town Chief Administrative Officer with the preparation of a complaint letter primarily concerning the behaviour of Snow with respect to Snow’s treatment of Town staff.”
From the statement of claim:
A successor to the above-mentioned former Town Chief Administrative Officer, Daniel Troke (“Troke”), prior to the Plaintiff’s termination, belittled the Plaintiff, and unfairly without grounds, criticized the Plaintiff’s performance.
Snow and/or Troke, or other Town staff at the behest of and direction of Snow and/or Troke, intervened and caused relevant staff at the Municipality of the County of Kings to withdraw an offer of employment to the Plaintiff regarding a planning position at the Municipality of the County of Kings.
Gentleman also alleges the defendent “exhibited shocking, harsh, and extreme behaviour” toward her.
Claims of a toxic workplace
In September 2021, Pam Berman at CBC reported on that letter mentioned in Gentleman’s statement of claim. Berman writes:
In June, Coun. Andrew Zebian obtained a copy of a letter written in July 2020 by Kelly Rice, a former chief administrative officer of Kentville. CBC News also received a copy. The letter has already been published by Frank Magazine.
The letter outlines the treatment of staff by certain councillors and Mayor Sandra Snow. It alleges that Snow made inappropriate remarks about employees loud enough for them to hear and threatened to trip a staff member so she would “smash her face.”
Rice would not do an interview with CBC News, but other sources say the information in the letter is accurate.
In an email to CBC, Snow said she is bound by a confidentiality agreement and cannot comment on the letter, but added that “no threats of violence in the workplace are acceptable.”
“I would not, nor have I, threatened a member of staff,” wrote Snow. “My relationship with staff is professional.”
As Berman reported, Zebian asked the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman to investigate the claims in the letter.
Troke, meanwhile, told CBC the town wasn’t a toxic workplace, saying “the folks who work here are safe and feel it is a safe place to come work.”
Still another town councillor, Cathy Maxwell, told CBC she feels the town’s code of conduct isn’t effective, saying she “felt bullied” after she was harassed by another councillor during her first term from 2016 to 2020.
Damages for wrongful dismissal, breach of contract
Gentleman is seeking damages, including:
- general damages for wrongful dismissal and lack of reasonable notice of termination of employment
- special damages for losses related to the wrongful dismissal
- general and special damages for breach of contract
- damages for loss of benefits, including accrued sick days
- aggravated damages for mental distress and humiliation
- punitive damages