Former Penticton fire chief files lawsuit against the city

Former Penticton Fire Chief Wayne Williams has launched a civil claim against the City of Penticton, stating he was wrongfully dismissed.

Former Penticton fire chief Wayne Williams (right) and Capt. Ken MacDonald at the 2008 fire at the Hamlets care and assisted living facility which was under construction at the time. Inset in story: Former Penticton fire chief Williams. Bottom: Williams looks through the debris of a house fire in 2015.

Former Penticton fire chief Wayne Williams (right) and Capt. Ken MacDonald at the 2008 fire at the Hamlets care and assisted living facility which was under construction at the time. Inset in story: Former Penticton fire chief Williams. Bottom: Williams looks through the debris of a house fire in 2015.

Former Penticton Fire Chief Wayne Williams has launched a civil claim against the City of Penticton, stating he was wrongfully dismissed.

Williams said the circumstances surrounding his termination caused him “mental distress and humiliation.”

Williams, 56, told the Western News in 2015 he had mixed emotions leaving a job he held for the past decade, and a career spanning 35 years. While he was seemingly retiring from the position as fire chief, Williams is now stating in a notice of civil claim filed on June 21 that he was wrongfully dismissed.

Read more: Penticton fire chief prepares to stand final shift

In the court documents, Williams said between March and August 2015 he made public his plans to retire but did not set a firm retirement date. Earlier that year, in February, he said he attended a traumatic critical incident in the course of his duties. On Sept. 7 he commenced short-term disability leave as a result of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from the February incident. That same day he made a claim for workers’ compensation and, in order to advance his recovery and return to work, Williams’ physicians recommended that he limit communication with the City of Penticton during his short-term disability leave.

Williams said during his leave the City of Penticton continually attempted to communicate with him, despite knowing the medical advice he received.

Just over a week into his leave, the city terminated Williams’ access to his work computer network and requested he return any phones or computers that belonged to the city. Williams’ claim states the city warned him about failing to keep in contact with them. He claims he did communicate with them during his leave in accordance with his work obligations.

On Oct. 5, Williams said he told the city that he planned to retire following the conclusion of his PTSD treatment, but still did not set a date. He alleges that during this period in October, the city made “irrelevant and inaccurate objections” to WorkSafeBC about his conduct and his claim for short-term disability. In his suit, Williams claims the city provided WorkSafeBC with information intended to make it seem as though his disability claim was false and unfounded. This includes stating he had performance issues over the past few years and that this was a move to avoid disciplinary actions by feigning a disability to entitle him to workers compensation benefits.

In discussions with the city in November of 2015, the city indicated they would accept Williams date of Feb. 22, 2016 that he was considering to make his retirement day.  A month later his disability claim was accepted and he began compensation through WorkSafeBC and Williams said he made it clear it was now not his intention to retire on the set date. He claims both parties agreed that he would retire at a date to be determined, no earlier than his being deemed fit to return to work by WorkSafeBC.

When Feb. 22, 2016 came, Williams said he was terminated anyways and without cause, reasonable notice or pay in lieu of notice. He was asked to return his uniforms even though according to him he would be expected and entitled to wear the dress uniform on certain occasions as a retired member of the fire service in good standing.

Williams said in the court documents that he is entitled to 302 hours of vacation and 22 hours of equivalent time off, or payment in lieu of vacation or equivalent time off and the City of Penticton, to-date, has failed to compensate him. As well, an arbitrator issued an award to retroactively give the firefighters a wage increase and he is entitled to compensation from that pay grade increase for his salary as fire chief from Jan. 1, 2010 to the date of his termination.

None of the allegations have been in front of a judge and the city now has 30 days to respond to the civil claim.