A court date has been set for September for a lawsuit involving a former staffer in Mayor Brian Bigger's office.
Lawyers for Alicia Lachance and the city were in court Wednesday and will return Sept. 6 to set a trial date for sometime in 2018.
The former public relations assistant worked first with Mayor Marianne Matichuk for four months, then with Bigger after his election victory in October 2014. Lachance is seeking $150,000 for being wrongfully dismissed, another $150,000 in aggravated and punitive damages, her legal costs and any other award “the court deems just.”
Alternatively, she's asking the court to award her about $159,000, the amount she says she is owed for the remainder of her contract in salary and benefits.
In her statement of claim, Lachance says that she was a “well-respected” member of Matichuk's office, where “she enjoyed significant status and professional prestige,” the lawsuit states.
But problems began soon after Melissa Zanette was appointed the mayor's chief of staff and became her immediate supervisor.
“The mayor's office and its staff were treated with daily criticism, while the chief of staff's behaviour became radical, erratic and unprofessional,” the statement of claim reads.
“She began bullying, intimidating and she began to stalk the plaintiff on her Facebook page. The chief of staff's behaviour became verbally abusive and was often not justified to the situation that presented itself.”
Zanette behaved as if she expected “that the taxpayers of the City of Greater Sudbury pay the mayor's administrative assistant to act as a personal valet to the chief of staff,” the claim says, “to the point of expecting her to bring the chief of staff a pair of shoes to her when she attended a site meeting with the mayor and had brought the wrong shoes for the event.”
The claim says Lachance was subjected to “denigrating” treatment that included being yelled at and being the subject of sarcastic remarks. The situation grew worse when “most of the mayor's staff was terminated or left of their own volition because of the untenable atmosphere in the mayor's office.”
None of these claims have been proven in court. The city has also filed a statement of defence denying any wrongdoing and refuting all allegations.
In its statement of defence, the city says Lachance's work was not satisfactory, that she made grammatical, spelling and other errors, missed deadlines, “inefficiently managed her time” and “seemed distracted and unfocused while at work.
“The plaintiff was provided with support and constructive feedback on how to improve her performance,” the defence claim says. “The plaintiff was not receptive to any form of feedback or criticism regarding her work performance. She grew hostile towards her supervisor and towards any assignment she considered to be unimportant.”
The city also says it hired an independent investigator to look into the allegations, and the investigation concluded that Zanette “had not engaged in a course of conduct that was vexatious and had not created a hostile work environment.”
In a statement released in June 2016, Bigger denied the allegations.
“While this matter is before the courts and we cannot speak to matters pertaining to human resources, I categorically refute the claims made by the complainant,” Bigger said in the statement.
“I stand firmly behind Ms. Zanette and her work, and believe that the position of the city and my office will be upheld by the court.”