Some of the Poop on the Pilon vs Cornwall Case, Robert Menagh, Paul Fitzpatrick and the City of Cornwall Axing our Advertising with them because of Anonymous Comments

Some of the Poop on the Pilon vs Cornwall Case, Robert Menagh, Paul Fitzpatrick and the City of Cornwall Axing our Advertising with them because of Anonymous Comments
Cornwall Ontario CAO Paul "Fitzy" Fitzpatrick

CFN – In the aftermath of the stories tarring Cornwall Ontario Staffing honcho Robert Menagh, a lot of discussin’ has been taking place.   It’s grist for the Timmy’s crowd and why not?   Tall,

Robert Menagh

rugged, a lawyer,  highly paid by Cornwall standards; there’s plenty to throw bricks at in a town that loves to throw bricks; especially if the throwers have that very special petty jealousy gene predominant of so many here.

But then you start to ask questions?    The writer in me, as opposed to the journalist, always looks at stories a little differently.   Not so much always on the surface.   This is a town after all that the Province of Ontario spent $50 million dollars to come to no conclusive answer.   Project Truth pretty much never really stated the truth.   So when you see that much money being spent on an inquiry you have to ask who is being protected?

If I were writing a screenplay or book (whoops!  I am) then those are the paths that you take as you fill your canvas.

But life is always much more entertaining than fiction and the cast of characters that is starting to fill scribblers notes lead to many many questions.

After all people in a City Hall generally don’t act without some sort of understanding with their superiors.   Mr. Menagh reports to that charming fellow pictured, CAO Paul Fitzpatrick.

“Fitzy” as he’s called by many in Cornwall has been around a long time.   He was the Mark Boileau of his day, in charge of Economic Development when Mr. Menagh was hired way back.

Mr. Menagh; other than that incident in Hamilton has a sterling record.  He’s one of only two actual lawyers in a Human Resource role in the entire province.   Cornwall has a high employee retention and generally city jobs are much sought after in this city by the river.

Likewise according to our preliminary research there are below average amounts of issues with staff here.

So the curious case of Marie Anne Pilon and Diane Shay hitting the media at the same time start to prompt questions?

Let’s review the case of Ms Pilon to start.  Keep in mind that these events occurred before Mr. Menagh started his position.

She worked for the City of Cornwall for 24 years ending in Finance.  That’s long term.   According to media reports Ms Pilon had colitis issues and if one believes preliminary reports was harrased and stressed to the point that her colitis precluded her working for the city of Cornwall any longer.  Mr. Menagh is alleged to have even gone to the lengths of having Employment insurance not cover her claim.

Pretty nasty stuff.   So tonight I sifted through the three reports on CanLII the legal case repository.    The case was adjudicated by David Muir based in Toronto.

March 31 Interim decision


 the applicant has alleged discrimination on the basis of sex and disability.

 

Hmm….basis of sex?

The allegation in respect of this complaint is essentially that the applicant was treated differently than two male colleagues who were similarly situated.  The applicant states that following a job evaluation and the subsequent elimination of her and a female colleague’s incumbent position.

Well pay equity is an important issue however this was eventually tossed.

The respondents state that the allegations in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006 do not constitute a series of incidents.  The allegation respecting the incidents in 2002 is essentially that the applicant was being harassed by a colleague over what was perceived to be the applicant’s abuse of break times and her supervisor failed to respond appropriately.

Ah, another issue, this time with co-workers.

[17]           The next alleged incident occurred on April 28, 2004 when her supervisor is alleged to have instructed her to not use the washroom at times other than scheduled breaks.  The applicant alleges that her supervisor stated that a fellow employee had reported that she was using the washroom at times other than her scheduled breaks.  She alleges that her supervisor told her that by her use of the washroom at other than scheduled break times her doing so was sending the wrong message.  The applicant alleges that she was given the same instruction on April 30, 2004.  The applicant alleges that these incidents caused her stress which exacerbated her colitis symptoms and she went home early that day – a dispute arose about her entitlement to sick pay for that day but was later resolved.

I feel for Ms Pilon.  What kind of ninny clocks your bathroom breaks.  When Colitis flashes it can be quite disturbing.

[20]           The report entitled “Informal Review on Allegations of Harassment in the Finance Department”, dated July 19, 2004 was filed by the respondents.  I note at this point that the Report is as much about workload distribution in the applicant’s department as it is about the issues raised by the applicant’s May 4 complaint.  It is also clear from the report that there were tensions in the workplace about alleged preferential treatment of employees.  At this stage it appears that this was likely a reference, in part, to the applicant’s need for unpredictable washroom breaks which clearly had been an issue for some of the applicant’s colleagues since 2002.

Starting to sound like Ms. Pilon’s co-worker had issues with her and her illness and perhaps alleged abuse of personal phone calls.

[28]           On June 28, 2006, the employer ordered the applicant to return to work on July 4, 2006.  The applicant advised the employer that she could not return to work and referred the respondent employer to her physician’s note of November 2005 which the Board of Referees had relied upon in coming to their conclusions.  The employer terminated the applicant on July 4, 2006.   A grievance was filed by the applicant alleging harassment before and during a sick leave contrary to the Code on July 5 and on July 10 in response to the termination.  These grievances along and all of the other outstanding grievances of the applicant were withdrawn by the union in May 2007.  At about the same time the union formally advised the applicant advising her of same and informing her that it no longer represented her.

Unions usually support their workers to the end of the world in most cases.  I know of one in particular in Cornwall that was truly magnificent in light of the charges.   For the Union to drop Ms. Pilon states something…

July 12 2010

More on the case in round two.

[8]               The applicant left the workplace on or about September 15, 2005 and did not return.  She alleges that she left because of her worsening symptoms of colitis consequent to unresolved workplace issues which she has characterized as harassment.  The applicant filed a claim with the respondent employer for short-term sickness benefits which was denied.  Her physician reported to the respondent employer on the application for short-term sickness benefits on or about September 20, 2005 that the applicant was experiencing “exacerbation of colitis, insomnia, illegible, emotional distress due to psychologically unhealthy work environment and harassment”.  The respondent employer was also advised at that time that the applicant’s absence from work might be affected by “long standing issues that have never been addressed/resolved at work, not able to function in current work assignment”.  The physician further advised the employer that the applicant had experienced a similar job related stress reaction in May 2004.

That whole statement kinda bothers me.  It sorta insinuates the zeitgeist that if the employer didn’t satisfy the employee then the stress would cause them to have to go on leave or cause a lot of grief…

September 14, 2011

The last round so far.

[6]               For the reasons set out below the Application is allowed in part.  The failures of the respondents are both substantive and procedural. I have found that the respondents, the City of Cornwall, John Flannigan and David Dick, discriminated against the applicant in suggesting to her  that she attempt to confine her washroom use to her scheduled break times and  failed to accommodate the applicant to the point of undue hardship when requested to do so in May 2004.

That sums that up.

[9]               Finally, I have found that the respondents failed again to investigate the applicant’s concerns although requested to do so in the Fall of 2005, and that the corporate respondent and Robert Menagh discriminated against the applicant in July 2006, and  failed again in their obligation to accommodate the applicant by terminating her employment rather than make further inquiries of her health and need for accommodation at that time.

Mr. Muir is clear on his findings.

[20]           Much of the background to this Application is controversial and was the subject of a prior interim decision in which I dismissed significant aspects of the Application because they were out of time (see 2010 HRTO 680 (CanLII), 2010 HRTO 680).  Nonetheless it is important to understand that the applicant had been engaged in a long debate with the respondent employer about her job classification and work duties.  The applicant believes that she was improperly compensated as a consequence of her sex since 1988.  Related to this issue is the fact that the applicant was concerned that over time, her job duties were being diluted and, as a consequence, her classification and compensation might be affected. These underlying concerns engendered some level of workplace conflict over job duties with one of her work colleagues.  This individual also had a role to play in relation to the Code issues that revolved around this workplace dispute.

Red flag.

[65]           The triggering event for the impending events leading to the applicant’s leaving the workplace was a report by a co-worker about the applicant’s use of the telephone. On September 6, 2005, Ms. Pilon approached Mr. Flannigan with her concerns about workload as described above. These concerns were communicated to Mr. Dick by Mr. Flannigan.  Two days, later Mr. Dick was approached by one of the applicant’s colleagues, who told him that the applicant had spent approximately two hours on the telephone trying to secure a doctor’s appointment for her son.  The applicant denies that she spent two hours on the phone but acknowledges that she had received a call from the hospital about scheduling an appointment for her son.   She testified that she was on hold for much of the time but that the total length of the call was about 20 minutes.  In any event, in light of her expressed concerns about workload, Mr. Dick told Mr. Flannigan that this amount of time on the telephone was not appropriate.

Very little has been mentioned about use of the phone…

[71]           Mr. Dick and Mr. Flannigan believed that this version of events was a wilful fabrication on the part of the applicant. Mr. Dick testified that he decided that he would make her job much easier by removing her telephone from her desk.  Arrangements were made on September 14, 2005, to have the telephone removed and placed away from the applicant’s desk.

This Mr. Dick kinda sounds like a ….   I could understand some of the frustration by Ms Pilon.

[73]           First thing the following day, September 15, 2005, the applicant went into Mr. Flannigan’s office and told him that she would be filing harassment charges as a result of the staff meeting on September 13th.  She also advised Mr. Flannigan of the advice the union had given her with respect to what she believed to be a request by the employer that she perform the work of Ms. O. as well as her own.

[74]           Moments later a technician arrived to move her phone.  It is agreed that the applicant became upset by this, locked up her cash box and left the workplace.  She has not returned to work with the respondent employer.

and this is interesting

[81]            At the same time, complaints about the applicant’s washroom use were clearly not the predominant issue in the workplace in September 2005.  The workplace disputes about workload and taking of too much personal time for phone calls and internet use do not engage the Code.  Being talked about behind your back and an alleged lack of teamwork do not necessarily engage the Code.  Neither does management’s decision to not replace Ms. O., potentially resulting in an increased work load for the applicant.  Describing the employer’s efforts at performance management as harassment, while understandable from the applicant’s perspective, was not helpful in describing what her Code issues were at the time.

and

[88]           The applicant’s emotional state when she left the workplace on September 15 was noticeable to everyone.   The respondents appear to have appreciated at the time that her emotional reaction was not entirely unjustified. In notes of a meeting held on September 20, 2005, involving Mr. Dick, Ms. Landry, Mr. Menagh, Manager of Human Resources, and others, it was acknowledged that the September 13thdepartment meeting became about the applicant’s “incompetence and inefficiency” and that her reaction to it was understandable.  Mr. Dick is said to have suggested that the applicant was “crucified” by her colleagues and management at the meeting, a situation he regretted.

that’s pretty ugly

[101]      The resulting report of the union’s investigation dated June 26, 2006, is not particularly insightful.  In particular, I note the union’s response to the applicant’s concern that the employer had questioned her use of the washroom outside of her break times.  The union took the view that the employer’s request that she restrict her use of the washroom to her breaks was silly but was not harassment.  The union’s position was wrong and completely missed the point..

It does feel like Ms Pilon was let down by her union…

[103]      The day after the union’s report was sent to the applicant she received a letter from Mr. Menagh:

It has come to my attention that you have been continuously absent from work since September 15, 2005.  Your absence was precipitated by what you claimed was harassment in the workplace.

Your claims were investigated by both your employer and your union.  These reviews concluded that your claims were without merit.

Accordingly, I am writing to instruct you to report for work in the Financial Department on Tuesday, July 4, 2006 at 8:30 a.m.

[104]      The applicant responded:

I will be unable to report to work on July 4th, 2006 at 8:30 a.m. as indicated in your registered letter dated June 27th 2006, due to health issues.

Please refer to my previously submitted medical letters of assessment from my family physician doctor M J Randlett for any clarification.

[105]      Mr. Menagh replied:

We are in receipt of your letter of June 30th 2006 responding to ours of June 27, 2006 which had requested that you report for work on July 4th.

You have indicated that you will not/cannot report as directed due to “health issues”.

You direct that I refer to your previously submitted “medical letters of assessment” for clarification of your position.  In this regard, the last medical information we received was dated November 14, 2005.  It was in the form of a copy of an HRDC form which we presume you had submitted in support of a claim for E.I. benefits.  The bottom half of that form contains an “Attending Physician’s statement signed by Dr. Randlett.

The form which indicates that your expected date of recovery is November 14, 2005 also contains the following statement from Dr. Randlett:

Marie-Anne is able to return to work but cannot return to her previous (emphasis hers) employer.  The harassing and unprofessional treatment she received there caused her illness and I recommend that she leave that placement. She is fully capable of returning to any other employment.

Dr. Randlett’s opinion not withstanding, absolutely no evidence has been uncovered by either your employer or your union to support your claim that you have been harassed in the workplace.

Consequently, I am writing to inform you that should you fail to report for work on Tuesday July 4, 2006 as directed, the City will deem you to have abandoned your employment with it.

I used bold on that one sentence.   That’s quite a statement for Dr. Randlett to make.    A definite smoking gun of sorts.

[119]      Finally, I also find that the respondent City, Mr. Flannigan and Mr. Dick condoned harassment of her by their failure to insulate her from the complaints of other employees that were related to her use of the washroom at times other than her formal break times. This was most acutely the case in May 2004 when she was told that an employee had made a complaint(s) about her washroom use, but was also present to a more limited degree in September 2005.

Hmm…

Now reading this as a lay person I see a pattern.  It is abusive.   Instead of trying to find a solution for Ms Pilon her circumstances were allowed to be exacerbated.  I also see another trend.

Mr. Fitzpatrick became CAO of Cornwall Ontario on January 1, 2006.    Mr. Robert Menagh has been vilified in this report and the media.    This issue started before his arrival in his position.   Just barely into his tenure a new CAO was hired; ie, his direct boss.

Mr. Menagh had a sterling record in Hamilton other than his personal incident.    He’s also an attorney and a very bright person.    He’s also a company man.   Does anyone really doubt that his direct superior didn’t have an understanding or any direction in this whole event or others?  Is he taking a hit for the team?  Is he being thrown under the bus?  Is he just a heavy handed villain?

There’s a consistent heavy handedness that seems to govern our fair city.    The Diane Shay incident also has those flavours as do quite a few other cases.

Today in fact I received a notice from our City Hall.

Cornwall City Council

 

DEPARTMENT: Department of Economic Development
REPORT NUMBER: 201119
PREPARED BY: Bob Peters, Senior Development Officer
REPORT DATE: 11/09/2011
MEETING DATE: Nov 14, 2011 07:00 PM

 

SUBJECT: Advertising Policy

 

PURPOSETo provide Council with background information concerning issues related to City advertising on websites, and to recommend a policy to direct future advertising efforts.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

That City advertising be prohibited from any publication or website that allows offensive and inflammatory content, including websites that allow anonymous posting.

 

FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS

The establishment of an advertising policy does not have a financial impact on the 2012 budget.

 

STRATEGIC PRIORITY IMPLICATIONS

Communications is an important part of the strategic priorities established by Council, appearing in each of the 3 pillars.

 

BACKGROUND / DISCUSSION

It is important that information about the City’s programs and services be communicated to the citizens of Cornwall. It is also important to communicate the benefits of investing in Cornwall to outside businesses and potential future residents. 

There are a number of methods used for communication, including advertising. The mix of these methods change as market trends and specific strategies change. Over the past several years, advertising on websites has been used to build the City’s brand and drive traffic to the City and Choose Cornwall websites.

The choice of message and advertising venue are carefully chosen to maximize the impact of the communication effort, and to ensure that the Cornwall brand is positively received by its intended audience.

Over the past several months, the Department has received numerous questions and complaints concerning City ads on websites that allow users to post anonymous comments through the use of pseudonyms. Several people have questioned why the Cornwall brand is associated with content that many consider to be overly negative in nature.

Department staff investigated the issue of anonymous posts. Although fairly common on many newspaper websites and blogs, the practice has become the subject of a sometimes fierce debate. TheWall Street Journal has written “… the cloak of anonymity has made Internet message boards the hotbed of rumor, insult and overheated rhetoric”, while the Miami Herald has noted that anonymous online forums “have become havens for a level of crudity, bigotry, meanness and plain nastiness that shocks the tattered remnants of our propriety.”

A number of news organizations, most notably the CBC, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters and even the Huffington Post are moving towards requiring people to register before posting comments, and in many cases, having policies that ban “offensive language, personal attacks and unsubstantiated allegations”. Some of these organizations are taking the final step and are banning anonymous posts in favour of real names.

A review of local news websites show that only two allow anonymous posts: the Standard-Freeholderand the Cornwall Free News. Both sites have some moderation of comments, but a review of activity over the past several months have led staff to concur with the generalized assessment of the practice by the American Journalism Review: “Comment sections are often packed with profanity, and vicious personal attacks.”

Certainly it would appear that the crude nature of many of the anonymous posts on local websites would never be acceptable to appear in traditional print media, so it is curious as to why the posts are allowed to appear online. Some experts have posited that crude, attacking posts would cease if users had to use their real names. Still there are many that would argue anonymous posts, if moderated properly, can allow for important social commentary. 

The core issue (from an advertising perspective) however is not free speech, but rather should the City of Cornwall brand be associated with any publication, electronic or otherwise, that allows for mean-spirited commentary.

Staff believe that advertising on web sites or publications with offensive and inflammatory content undermines the positive values of the City of Cornwall brand. As it is impossible to police these websites or oversee moderators, it is more effective to adopt a policy that the City will not advertise on any website that allows anonymous posting.

It is important to note that this policy does not impair the free choice of organizations in the running of their websites or publishing content as they see fit. It simply prohibits City advertising on sites with offensive commentary. 

Given the variety and number of advertising options available, such a policy would not negatively affect the City’s communication efforts.

Approval
November 09, 2011 11:59 AM Bob Peters
Senior Development Officer
November 09, 2011 12:00 PM Mark A. Boileau
Manager Economic Dev.
November 10, 2011 11:04 AM Paul W. Fitzpatrick
Chief Administrative Officer

This has been an ongoing issue.   A few months ago I was contacted by Mr. Peters informing me of this totally ridiculous new policy.  It actually was put in place and myself and the Free Holder notified of it.

I wrote a letter to council which resulted in an email from Mr. Fitzpatrick informing me that our advertising would continue until the end of this year and a review.

When you read this report you can again see heavy handed tactics.

Besides being a Cornwall start up success and now the number one Canadian ranked  news site online in our area, we have done a fine job for the city of Cornwall.    We were informed by Mr. Peters that we sent 18% more web traffic to the Choose Cornwall website in 2011 so far than in 2010, and that after Google, Bing, and Facebook were the number one provider of web traffic.

We receive for example about 1/26th of what the Free Holder is paid for inserting the City Bulletin.  What do comments (which are never posted on city bulletin pages)  have to do with  comments in other stories?

We have had over 13,500 comments on our site since February 2009.   I can’t think of more than a handful that truly or even remotely crossed any lines.    Our comments are moderated and in response to the city’s complaints we instituted a registration process for all of public commentators.   The language that is rarely  used is much more tame than that used by the general public or even city management!

Knowing this Mr. Peter’s and city management wrote this report which is going to council that is false pertaining to us specifically; but is showing a thin skin and intolerance for the public.   I think it would only be fair if we and the Free Holder would be allowed to speak at the November 14th meeting at the very least to address the mistruths of this report.

As a small business it’s very frustrating.  Most of our clients have been long term.  We are a client first company, but this heinous report and abuse of power just stinks.

For Mr. Peters to explain to me that he doesn’t want to try and control our editorial process while the city states that it will cut off our advertising if we don’t stop our comments is just plain wrong.

It certainly doesn’t serve taxpayers or the city.  If we have readership who loses?   What message does this send to our residents and those outside of Cornwall looking in?

Frankly it’s embarrassing.   I love this city.   I’ve worked hard to try and promote it and make it better; but there’s an environment of brutishness and bullying that has to change.  The cronyism and cliques have to end.

When a business owner tells me that when they once complained about a nearby empty building and how it wasn’t being cleaned the result was a registered letter to them demanding that they clean up their own building.

Successful cities don’t work that way.

When the CFIB reports that Cornwall finished 98 out of 100 and that nearby Brockville has four times the membership that Cornwall does in spite of having less than half the population that says something to the state of small business in Cornwall.

As a business that started with limited resources and has never had any loans or grants from any government and solely survives by lots of hard work, sweat, and support from the community this isn’t just an attack on myself personally or this newspaper.  It’s an attack on the community from those who are not elected, but paid to serve us.

You can’t hide problems.  You can’t stick your head in the sand.    Not in today’s world of internet communication.   Btw, Mr. Fitzpatrick, regarding profanity, here is a link to a main stream media site talking about Whoopi Goldberg on the view.  LINK  The language in that story is far more…..than anything we print.

Maybe it’s time that Cornwall hire some people focused on 2011 instead of 1971?

Going back to the case of Ms Pilon.   I was told today that her case could cost the city as much as $500,000 if not more.   Add in the Shay case.  Add in the lawyers fees for these cases and others not in media play…yet, and perhaps that’s why we in Cornwall are taxed as high as we are?

No, it is time for change here.  I’m not leaving Mr. Fitzpatrick.   Cornwall is a city of opportunity and has a bright future.    It needs to embrace what’s good and nurture new business.  Not try and destroy it simply for being independent.  There are more good people than bad.

Mr. Menagh I hear has one heck of a contract.   An awfully expensive one to break.  It should be interesting to see how Mr. Fitzpatrick handles that one and how much it costs taxpayers if that’s the route being set up now?

To our 90,000 + visitors per month; to our many sponsors, to our contributors, mentors, and voices from all over Canada thank you for all of the support and assistance in making CFN what it is.  A voice for those who don’t always get heard.

Jamie Gilcig – Editor – The Cornwall Free News.

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