Two senior City of Brampton employees embroiled in legal battle against each other over whistleblower allegations

·8 min read

Two ‘director’-level employees in the City of Brampton’s senior administration are engaged in a legal battle with each other.

Brampton’s director of human resources is suing director Gurdeep (Nikki) Kaur for defamation after she shared bombshell allegations of corruption, racism and mismanagement by senior staff members at Brampton City Hall.

In a mass email Kaur sent to City employees, council members and media outlets late last month, she levelled a number of allegations against HR Director Sandeep Aujla who she dubbed a “racist” in her allegations.

Kaur claims Aujla said “Black people are dumb” while she was being interviewed for her job as director of HR in November 2019. Kaur says she was one of four panel members who heard the statement, along with CAO David Barrick and a representative from hiring firm Feldman Daxon Partners.

In her statement of claim Aujla denies she made any such statement and the only reference she made while discussing the Black community was in relation to a diversity initiative she led while doing consulting work for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).

“If the Plaintiff had made such a ridiculous and bigoted comment, she never would have been hired,” the claim states. “No concerns were raised by any member of the Interview panel during the Interview, nor to [Aujla] in the wake of the Interview, including up to and including the point of [Aujla’s] hiring.”

Aujla is seeking $200,000 in damages, claiming the allegations made in Kaur’s email have hurt her reputation, lowered her status in the community and “caused her to be unfairly regarded with feelings of hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear, dislike and/or disesteem.”

Aujla and Kaur had a limited working relationship, the statement of claim alleges, and in their few interactions, Aujla took issue with delays in Kaur’s work on a new City Employee code of conduct. Aujla also alleges Kaur violated the City’s Employee Files policy. According to Aujla’s statement of claim, during a February 2020 meeting, Kaur requested access and copies of files for employees who did not report to her, something that would allegedly violate the City’s policy. It’s unclear how such a request would be a violation or what the circumstances were. There is no further detail provided in the statement of claim to support Aujla’s allegation.

“[We] will be defending the lawsuit vigorously that's come against Ms. Kaur,” her lawyer, Lorne Honickman, of Brauti Thorning LLP, told The Pointer. “It will not be appropriate to make any [further] comment at this time,” he stated in an emailed response.

Aujla’s position as director of HR is her second role with the City, after she previously worked as a senior manager in the HR department from July 2018 to July 2019, according to the claim, before applying for the director job in November 2019. Kaur alleges Aujla’s brief absence was because she was fired from her position, something Aujla says is not true.

When asked by The Pointer about the reason for Aujla’s absence during the summer of 2019, her lawyer, Alex Van Kralingen, would not provide an explanation.

“Ms. Aujla is legally precluded from answering your question, but has confidence in the veracity of everything alleged in her Statement of Claim. Neither she or I are in a position right now to say anything further. We trust that the court process will provide a vehicle to speak more openly about all of the matters canvassed in Ms. Aujla’s claim,” an emailed response states.

Kaur also alleges Aujla gave a raise to an employee because he was “a friend” of David Barrick, despite Kaur’s direction that the raise was not merited based on poor performance. The employee had only been with the City for six months, Kaur stated in her allegation.

Kaur’s email states, Blaine Lucas, the current director of corporate projects and liaison in the CAO’s office, emailed her in early January and “demanded I give him a raise” after working in the department for six months. She refused and later gave him an “unfavourable” performance review, laying out her reasons in an email to Barrick. Lucas appealed the performance review, claiming it was inaccurate and that he had been promised a raise by Kaur after six months during his initial job interview. These HR appeals are filed with the superior of the manager who writes the performance review. In this case, Kaur’s superior at the time was Barrick.

The lawsuit states Aujla was “not directly involved” in the appeal, but did advise Barrick on how the compensation process is supposed to work. Kaur states in her whistleblower allegation that she provided Barrick “a reason for each category that was in question (there is an email) and why the raise was not justified”.

The lawsuit alleges the staffer felt he was not treated properly.

“Mr. Lucas alleged that the Defendant fabricated the unfavourable performance review to create doubt about Mr. Lucas’ version of events re: the promise for a pay raise,” the claim states, noting the HR department found the review “largely inaccurate and untrue”. There are no further details in the statement of claim.

The Pointer reached out to Lucas for comment.

The statement of claim makes no mention of the conflict of interest caused by having Barrick making decisions on performance and compensation issues involving Lucas, a man he has close connections with.

Kaur provided text messages to support her allegations that show Barrick was very familiar with Lucas when he was hired, and that the senior staffer was hired in part to “grind out” another employee who Barrick hoped would leave the organization. Barrick texted Kaur that Lucas is “perfect to manage”.

Lucas and Barrick appear to belong to a mutual circle of individuals who have worked as public servants. Lucas worked for paramedic services at the City of Hamilton at the same time as Carmen D’Angelo, Barrick’s former boss. The pair filled managerial roles and both were part of the 2013 Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs. D’Angelo went on to work at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) where Barrick worked under him.

Kaur also accused Aujla of assisting Barrick, Lucas and Robert D’Amboise, Barrick’s advisor, in getting her transferred out from her director job in the CAO’s office. In April, Kaur ran for the Conservative nomination in the riding of Brampton West for the next federal election. She alleges Barrick called her on April 14 saying her candidacy was “a conflict of interest for government relations”. Kaur, who was off work sick at the time, said she did not receive any further explanation.

She was then offered a job in the planning department “that would magically get rid of this fake conflict”, Kaur stated. She did not accept the position at the time. Hours after she emailed her sweeping allegations on April 22, she was fired by Barrick.

His termination letter says her employment ended “as a result of your failure to accept the transfer to the position of Strategic Leader, Planning, Building & Economic Development Projects.” A copy of the letter, signed by Barrick, was obtained by The Pointer.

Aujla’s statement of claim says Kaur didn’t tell the City she was taking part in the nomination race and confirmation only came when Kaur sent her whistleblower email on April 22.

This contradicts what Barrick stated in his termination letter to Kaur. He wrote that she informed him of her nomination bid in an email no later than April 16.

Aujla’s lawsuit claims Kaur was using paid sick leave to further her “political ambitions” and was conducting work for her nomination while off sick immediately before the nomination contest.

Days after she was fired by Barrick, following her blistering allegations, including Mayor Patrick Brown’s use of City staff and resources to work on Peter MacKay’s unsuccessful federal Conservative Party leadership campaign last year, Council ordered her to be rehired and she was offered a position in the planning department, sources told The Pointer. It was reported by Torstar that Brown went to her house and asked Kaur to drop her allegations in exchange for getting her job back. The Pointer has not confirmed this and Brown has not denied visiting her home. Kaur confirmed Brown visited her home, but did not provide details of what was discussed. Brown denied asking her to drop the allegations.

Kaur is now back working for the City in another director-level position.

Council held a special meeting a day after Kaur went public with her allegations and voted to hire a third-party to investigate her claims. City Clerk Peter Fay said Wednesday that a “review of the complaint” will be completed in a 30-day period.

Email: nida.zafar@thepointer.com

Twitter: @nida_zafar

Tel: 416 890-7643

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Nida Zafar, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer