Brampton councilors sued for $20 million in layoff damages – Newsofcanada

Brampton’s former integrity commissioner is suing the city and the councilors who voted to fire her for $20 million in damages in a lawsuit that appears to be backed by Mayor Patrick Brown.

In a 22-page claim statement, labor attorney Muneeza Sheikh said her resignation in March was part of a conspiracy of several councilors who were angry about previous or pending ethics investigations she was conducting against them. Her claim also alleges that the councilors were in conflict when they passed “illegal” motions that resulted in her resignation.

She also claims that they vilified her when they publicly said she was billing too much for her work.

None of her claims have been proven in court, but the lawsuit is the latest case of political turbulence that has rocked Brampton, where the grievances and disputes of a deeply divided city council have played out in the public eye.

In her claim, Sheikh said three councilors were under ethics investigation when they began the process for her resignation and voted.

Her claim also states that Coun. Gurpreet Dhillon had displayed “animus” towards her and spoke publicly about trying to remove her from her position as “justification”, following her 2020 investigation into a complaint by a local resident that Dhillon had sexually harassed a local businesswoman during a trade mission to Turkey in 2019. Sheikh’s extensive investigation found that Dhillon had violated the code of conduct and the council voted to suspend his salary for 90 days based on her findings.

Sheikh’s report found no criminal misconduct or guilt, and the allegations have not been tested in court. Dhillon has denied the allegations.

A civil lawsuit filed by the alleged victim was recently settled out of court.

“The termination of my client as integrity commissioner was pure retaliation,” Sheikh’s attorney, Kathryn Marshall of Levitt Sheikh LLP, said in a statement. “She was a blatant target for removal because of a decision she made regarding a serious allegation of sexual assault against a council member…

“She has been subjected to an outrageous smear campaign for doing her job well,” Marshall added. “We look forward to justice and accountability and bringing this case to court.”

Sheikh is suing all six councilors for $3 million each, and one councilor, Pat Fortini, for another $75,000 in defamation damages. She is suing the city for $1 million for breach of contract, and another million in punitive damages.

The councilors named in the suit along with Dhillon and Fortini: Martin Medeiros, Doug Whilans, Charmaine Williams and Jeff Bowman.

According to the lawsuit, these six councilors voted as a “bloc” on city council matters.

Dhillon did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Neither is Whilans or Williams, who is now the MPP for Brampton Centre.

Bowman, who declared a conflict during the vote and did not vote for Sheikh’s resignation, said he was unable to comment.

The city of Brampton said it plans to defend itself.

In an email exchange obtained by the Star between Mayor Patrick Brown and Sheikh’s attorney Denise Cooney, Brown said he told Sheikh that Dhillon “declared that it was his mission and priority to get rid of Ms. Sheikh as integrity commissioner.”

Brown also said in the June 30 email to Cooney that Fortini told him the only reason the other councilors voted to replace Sheikh was to “keep Mr. Dhillon happy” and that it had nothing to do with her. professional fees.

“That’s what it was about,” Brown said in an interview with the Star, confirming the email and conversation. “I think anyone who has followed this knows what this was about.”

Fortini denied Brown’s allegation and told the Star it had nothing to do with Gurpreet. (That) was a year and a half ago. This was because when we saw the invoices and the bill, we said ‘enough is enough’. ”

Fortini said Sheikh’s fees, approaching $750,000 since 2020, were the main reason for her contract termination. He said the integrity commissioner for the Peel region charges a flat rate of $110,000 per year.

In the claim, Sheikh said her billable rate was $550 per hour, and that no member of the “block” was “previously concerned” about her fees. She said that despite councilors’ objection to her billable model, they later voted to hire a new integrity commissioner who also uses billable hourly rates.

But her main contention in the allegation is that in a closed council meeting, councilors — including those facing probes themselves — changed the statutes governing the dismissal of an integrity commissioner from a two-thirds majority to move to one that only requires a simple majority.

Days later, the motion to remove Sheikh was passed by 5-3 votes. Two councilors, including Bowman, declared a conflict over matters pending with Sheikh.

According to the lawsuit, Bowman voted to change the statutes that led to her resignation, which is why he is named in the lawsuit.

Brown was not present at the March meeting, leaving only eight of the eleven councilors.

“The city terminated the contract after the city council passed two illegal motions without the support of a two-thirds majority of the city council, and in violation of the principles of natural justice, procedural justice and democratic principles,” Sheikh’s claim.

Sheikh has also previously filed for annulment of the statutes that led to her resignation. Legal proceedings are pending, Marshall confirmed.

“Integrity commissioners have an important role in municipalities. They should never be removed in bad faith through procedural trickery and illegal closed-door meetings,” Marshall said.

In an interview, Brown called the council’s decision to fire the sheik “illegal.”

“It was retaliation for her finding against Coun. (Gurpreet) Dhillon. The councilor who supported it told me that that way they got Gurpreet’s vote on other matters. They promised him that.”

Medeiros also denied that his support for the termination of Sheikh’s contract was related to Dhillon, calling Brown’s claim “absurd” and “pure lies”.

Medeiros is concerned that Sheikh’s lawsuit, if successful, “would set a precedent across the province that individual councilors could be prosecuted based on their votes.”

Medeiros said Brown’s public characterization of Sheikh’s contract termination as illegal puts the city in legal jeopardy.

“It almost looks like he’s asking for a lawsuit against the city,” Medeiros said. “Mayor Brown is very irresponsible.”

However, Brown told the Star that he believes the impeachment of Sheikh is “unethical” and that doing so is the right thing to do.

“You always do the right thing when you speak the truth. That’s why I thought firing the integrity commissioner was wrong and everyone knew what it was about,” he said.

Noor Javed is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering city news with an interest in 905 municipal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @njaved

Graeme Frisque is a reporter for Mississauga News and Brampton Guardian. Reach him by email: [email protected]

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