Former Grand Forks fire chief suing city for wrongful dismissal

Dale Heriot was fired in July 2019 after his department was investigated for safety, bullying issues

Former Grand Forks fire chief Dale Heriot is suing the City of Grand Forks for wrongful dismissal, after being fired from the position in July 2019.

Heriot’s civil claim, filed in January to BC Supreme Civil Court, alleges that the city mishandled and misrepresented a human resources investigation into the Grand Forks fire department that resulted in him losing his job. Heriot also claims that his termination “constituted an arbitrary, willful, and fundamental breach of [his contract with the city],” and ultimately his wrongful dismissal.

The investigation

In March 2019, a volunteer member of Grand Forks Fire/Rescue lodged a complaint of bullying and harassment with the city and later with WorkSafeBC, to look into safety practices within the department. The city contracted an external HR investigator to look into allegations made by the firefighter.

Heriot’s claim against the city alleges that he was never told about the scope of last year’s investigation.

“The Plaintiff [Heriot] was never advised during the investigation that the investigation would include wide-ranging inquiry of his fitness to perform his role as Fire Chief,” the claim reads. “He was also never advised that the outcome of the investigation may result in discipline or termination of his employment.”

The city’s response, filed in February, says that Heriot was told by the investigator in March 2019 that the investigation “would address matters beyond the Complainant’s bullying and harassment complaint, extending more broadly to the work environment within leadership in the Fire Department, […] friction points within the Fire Department, the Fire Department safety culture and other matters of concern to members of the Fire Department.”

“The Investigation was in the nature of a workplace assessment, rather than a specific inquiry focused on the bullying and harassment complaint,” the city’s response reads.

Fallout from HR findings

After the HR investigation wrapped in May and Heriot went on paid administrative leave, the city reportedly told him that it was planning on changing the fire department’s leadership structure, “as a result of the investigator’s findings that [Heriot] engaged in bullying and harassing behaviour.”

According to Heriot’s claim, the changes would have meant that he could remain as fire chief but be stripped of some of his duties and would no longer have day-to-day command of the department.

“The anticipated changes to the Fire Chief’s duties were very distressing to [Heriot],” the former fire chief’s claim reads, noting that in fire departments, “a person’s rank is more meaningful than it might otherwise be for a civilian employment position.”

The Response to Heriot’s claim says he did not accept the anticipated changes to his position, adding that he “failed or refused to provide constructive feedback […] in respect of the proposed changes to his duties and responsibilities.” It was on those grounds, the city says, that Heriot was terminated without cause, effective July 23, 2019, and was entitled to 12-months’ salary upon dismissal.

Heriot is seeking damages for breach of contract, as well as punitive and aggravated damages, costs and interest in compensation for not being provided sufficient notice of his firing, for his expenses, and for claimed damage to his reputation and mental wellbeing.


@jensenedw
Jensen.edwards@grandforksgazette.ca

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