Employee alleges Nunavut government mishandled harassment complaints against him

Justice Department worker wants Nunavut court to review HR investigation

A Government of Nunavut employee alleges that the government mishandled harassment complaints made against him and wants the Nunavut Court of Justice to review his suspension and demotion. (FILE PHOTO)

By Beth Brown

A Government of Nunavut employee wants the Nunavut Court of Justice to review what he calls a wrongful suspension and demotion by the Department of Justice that flowed from allegations of workplace harassment directed at him by two other workers.

Sunday Thomas had worked as director of community justice for about six years before he was suspended for 126 days, starting in January 2018, over “allegations of misconduct.”

GN employee Sunday Thomas at a Remembrance Day ceremony in 2014. (FILE PHOTO)

The harassment allegations against Thomas have never been proven in court, but were the subject of an internal investigation.

Documents submitted by Thomas, in his October application for a judicial review, show that two employees each submitted one complaint of workplace harassment to the Department of Justice.

Those complaints came in August and September of 2017.

Following the first complaint, the GN interviewed Thomas and had him take online sensitivity training.

After the second complaint, the government launched an investigation, done by an external investigator.

Thomas said his winter suspension was extended three times, and, in May 2018, he was reassigned to a position as a senior mental health wellness clinician within the Department of Justice.

“I was essentially fired and placed in an entirely new position,” he said. “This was a terrifying, isolating and hugely stressful time.”

Nunatsiaq News only has access to parts of the HR investigation submitted to the courts by Thomas.

A transcript of an interview with one complainant reveals that the allegations concern sexual and racial harassment.

“I see my colleagues suffering,” one employee wrote to the assistant deputy minister of justice, citing claims of intimidation and inappropriate comments.

None of these allegations have been proven in court.

“I entirely deny any inappropriate actions or racial or sexual harassment of any staff member,” Thomas wrote.

Thomas called the GN’s treatment of him “wrongful” and “erroneous,” saying it violated his employee rights under the Public Service Act.

He said he wants his old job back and his suspension and all related reports made void.

In court Dec. 14, GN lawyer Adrienne Silk told Ontario deputy judge Clayton Conlan that the court doesn’t have the authority to put Thomas back into his old job.

“The meat of this case involves allegations of harassment leading to disciplinary action in the form of a demotion,” Silk said during the administrative hearing at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit.

On Dec. 5 the GN filed a notice of motion to dismiss the application, saying employee relations issues are not eligible for judicial review.

“They are private in nature and must be addressed by way of private law not public law. Mr. Thomas was not entitled to procedural fairness during the course of an employee relations investigation,” the notice reads.

In the transcript of one employee who was interviewed for the GN’s external investigation, one of the two known complainants from the community justice division alleged they regularly saw women staff members leave Thomas’s office “frustrated and crying.”

The same employee—who at one time claimed they witnessed Thomas kick a wall—alleged that Thomas told some female colleagues that they or their clothing was “cute,” “attractive” or “sexy.”

That employee alleges that Thomas told another employee, “The only reason you are in this position is because you are Inuk.”

Thomas is also alleged to have told a female Inuk employee that she looked cute when she was mad, after he dismissed her account of an RCMP dog slaughter saying, “The Inuit don’t have it that bad, RCMP never did anything that bad. Did that really happen?”

Again, none of these allegations are proven in court.

Documents submitted by Thomas’s lawyer, Anne Crawford, called this transcript a “rambling, diverse, unsubstantiated compendium containing an extended litany of allegations of financial, management and personal misconduct and racial and sexual harassment.”

Thomas applied to have his reprimand revoked by the deputy minister of justice, and then by the minister of finance, who is responsible for human resources.

All those applications were rejected.

“The Government of Nunavut takes harassment in the workplace very seriously,” Finance Minister George Hickes wrote to Thomas in that rejection.

“I am satisfied that the investigation process was conducted fairly and impartially.”

Conlan said he will hear the GN’s motion to “kick out” the application in January.

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