Ex-Ornge employee sues for wrongful dismissal
An Ornge air ambulance is shown in a file photo. (The Canadian Press)
Published Wednesday, November 7, 2012 1:45PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 7, 2012 7:31PM EST
TORONTO -- A former employee of Ornge is suing Ontario's scandal-plagued air ambulance service, saying she was fired for helping to expose alleged wrongdoing.
Lisa Kirbie, hired in March 2010 as the director of government and regulatory affairs, also alleges in her lawsuit that former CEO Chris Mazza was volatile, sexist and treated Ornge as his personal "fiefdom."
"Lisa was sexually harassed, ostracized from her work for being a woman, ostracized from her work for not taking part in criminality and subsequently marginalized and terminated for being a whistleblower," her lawyer Brian Shiller alleges in the statement of claim.
Kirbie co-operated with an auditor general's probe of Ornge, gave provincial police information about Ornge as part of their criminal investigation and notified senior Ministry of Health officials about Mazza's $1.4-million salary, the claim says.
Ornge has come under close scrutiny at Ontario's legislature, where a committee has heard explosive testimony about an alleged kickback scheme, exorbitant salaries and what one politician called "heavy-duty nepotism."
In her lawsuit, filed late last month in Ontario Superior Court, Kirbie alleges she was fired in July without cause and is seeking the equivalent of 40 months of pay and benefits and damages of $100,000.
She is claiming some of the damages due to the stigma she says she now faces as an ex-employee of Ornge.
"As a result of the wide-spread notoriety of alleged improprieties at Ornge, Lisa's future job prospects are poor and she has been left to work as an independent contractor," her statement says.
Kirbie also alleges she suffered mental distress as a result of sexual harassment and alienation at work.
"Mazza attempted to intimidate her, constantly looked at her in a sexual way, was a bully and treated Lisa as an object rather than as a qualified professional," the claim alleges.
None of the allegations have been proven in court. Stephen Patterson, Ornge's general counsel and acting CAO, said in a statement that Ornge doesn't dispute that Kirbie is owed "compensation for termination without reasonable notice."
However, Ornge will be disputing the amount in a statement of defence that is expected to be filed in the next few weeks, Patterson said.
Kirbie was let go because Ornge eliminated the government affairs function, Patterson said. But Kirbie writes in her lawsuit that by the time she was fired she was in a corporate communications role and after she left that position was filled.
Patterson's statement is careful to distance Ornge from its past regime.
"The current Ornge is committed to being fair to Ms. Kirbie as a former employee of the organization," Patterson wrote.
"We cannot comment on many of the factual allegations which she has made, as they pre-date the current Ornge leadership."
Mazza was not available to comment, said his lawyer, who instead offered a statement from Kelly Long, Mazza's girlfriend and former junior executive at Ornge. The allegations are "without merit and entirely false," she wrote.
"In his entire career as a physician or CEO, there has never been any evidence or allegations that suggest an incident of sexual impropriety or sexual harassment involving Dr. Mazza," Long wrote.
Mazza's lawyer, Roger Yachetti, said the statement of claim "dismally fails to comply with the Rules of Civil Procedure, in a number of ways." Mazza is not named in the lawsuit as a defendant, but lawyers for Ornge will be asking the court to "strike the improprieties" from the statement of claim, Yachetti said.
Kirbie says she questioned dealings with Italian firm AgustaWestland, which sold 12 helicopters to Ornge. Ornge Global, a for-profit subsidiary controlled by Mazza, also signed a marketing services agreement with AgustaWestland.
Kirbie says she came to believe that the government agency used public money to pay millions extra for the helicopters then drew up a "bogus" contract to kick back funds to Ornge's for-profit arm.
She says she asked an Ornge Global executive -- who was also Mazza's girlfriend -- about it and was told the contract was "a gift."
Agusta executive Louis Bartolotta has denied any wrongdoing, telling the legislative committee in April that the kickback allegations are "insulting."
When Mazza testified at the legislative committee he also denied that the Agusta deals were a kickback scheme. He said he didn't know what went wrong with the troubled air ambulance service, but the government never told him he was veering off course.
After she first became concerned about the AgustaWestland contract, Kirbie alleges Mazza called her into his office to say she shouldn't be "scared of the Tories" because she was "sleeping with" Warren Kinsella -- a prominent Liberal strategist and Kirbie's partner.
Mazza went on indefinite medical leave Dec. 22, 2011, and never returned to Ornge, but Kirbie alleges before she was let go she was alienated by supervisors and executives who believed she leaked information about Ornge to the media.
Ontario's auditor general has criticized the governing Liberals for failing to oversee Ornge, despite giving it $730 million over five years and allowing it to borrow another $300 million.
The legislative committee has heard that the government failed to act despite numerous red flags that trouble was brewing at the organization.
Ornge, which receives $150 million a year from the province, is currently under a criminal probe for financial irregularities.