The City of Penticton is denying almost all of the claims put forward by the former fire chief, who filed a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal in June.
Wayne Williams, 56, filed a notice of civil claim on June 21 stating he was fired without cause while on leave for post-traumatic stress disorder in February 2016.
The City of Penticton’s response, filed in Supreme Court July 18, denies all of Williams’ claims of wrongful dismissal, stating that he retired on the mutually agreed upon date of Feb. 22, 2016.
Read more: Former Penticton fire chief files lawsuit
The city’s response says that Williams did perform his duties as both deputy fire chief and fire chief with diligence, however they claim “there were issues with (Williams’) performance and attitude in the last few years of his employment, which (the city) attempted to address with him,” the response states.
Williams claims he had made his plans to retire known between March and August 2015, without setting a specific date. While in the course of his duties, Williams said he attended a traumatic critical incident in February of that year, a house fire that resulted in a fatality, and on Sept. 7, 2015 he started a short-term disability leave resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from that incident.
Williams claim states that in October 2015 he planned to retire at the end of his treatment, but didn’t set a firm date. He alleges during this period in October, the city made “irrelevant and inaccurate objections” to WorkSafeBC about his conduct and his claim for short-term disability.
While in discussions with the city in November 2015, the city said they would accept Williams’ retirement date of Feb. 22, 2016 that he was considering, to coincide with his wife’s birthday. A month later his disability claim was accepted and he began compensation through WorkSafeBC. Williams said he made it clear that he no longer intended to retire on that date. He claims both parties agreed that he would retire at a date to be determined, but no earlier than Williams being deemed fit to return to work by WorkSafeBC.
Williams said on Feb. 22, 2016 he was terminated without cause, reasonable notice or pay in lieu of notice.
The city said in their response that “at no time” prior to Feb. 18, 2016 did Williams advise the city that he wanted to postpone his retirement date until the conclusion of his worker’s compensation claim.
The city also said WorkSafeBC accepted that the mental stress was primarily related to the traumatic incident in February, but they also found Williams’ stress was 25 per cent attributable to previously existing “general workplace stress” and he was entitled to 25 per cent cost relief for the claim. The city said Williams has received all the payments to which he is entitled based on the retirement date in February.
The city is also denying the claim that they continually attempted to communicate with Williams while he was on leave, despite being aware of his physician’s advice not to communicate.
The city’s response states it is consistent with their usual practices when employees are on work-related, extended absences that the employee discontinues email access and cell phone usage.
“The (city) did require that (Williams) call his supervisor occasionally to keep the city advised of his progress and any anticipated return to work date,” the claim states. “This requirement is applicable to any employee who is absent from work.”
“The (city) was not informed that there was any medical reason Mr. Williams could not engage in occasional contact with the city to provide updates on his status.”
The city did admit they made a “minor error,” when they asked Williams to return his uniforms, despite Williams objection that he would be expected and entitled to wear the dress uniform on certain occasions as a retired member of the fire service, saying their human resources manager was “unaware of the profession practice in relation to use of the Fire Chief’s uniform after retirement.”
The city denied Williams’ allegation that he is entitled to 302 hours of vacation and 22 hours of equivalent time off, or payment in lieu.
Williams claims the city provided WorkSafeBC with information intended to make his claim seem false and unfounded — including that Williams had performance issues of the past few years and the short-term disability leave feigned in order to avoid disciplinary actions and to entitle him to worker’s compensation benefits.
Williams had a 35-year firefighting career and held the role of Fire Chief in Penticton for the past decade.