The longtime assistant to the president of Kwantlen Polytechnic University is suing the school for wrongful dismissal after two years of alleged harassment.
Sandra Kuzyk, 52, claims former university president John McKendry "terrorized" her, at times yelling and berating her and other staff, and in more than one instance throwing files and binders. She was fired in March, several months after McKendry was replaced by current president Alan Davis.
Kuzyk's allegations are contained in a notice of civil claim filed Friday in B.C. Supreme Court. The documents paint a picture of a toxic work environment at the top of the Metro Vancouver post-secondary institution. The school has campuses in Richmond, Surrey and Cloverdale with the administration headquartered at the Langley campus.
McKendry ran for the Langley School Board in the November 2011 election but did not win one of the seven seats.
The lawsuit allegations have not been proven in court, and McKendry told the Sunday Province he did not want to comment on them.
According to the documents, Kuzyk worked for the university for more than 15 years, including about eight years as the executive assistant to the president.
She claims that in August 2011 she was contacted by the chair of the board of governors, Gordon Schoberg, to discuss reports he'd had from other employees about McKendry's "hostile behaviour and fits of rage." McKendry, a longtime Langley resident whose career in education has spanned almost 40 years, was tapped as Kwantlen's "transition" president when David Atkinson stepped down in summer 2011. According to the court documents, "from 2011 onward, the behaviour of... McKendry was increasingly erratic, violent, intimidating and harassing towards various employees of the university." He allegedly "threw various objects, including... files, documents and binders at the plaintiff and others."
Kuzyk's claim goes on to list efforts made by various staff to change the situation.
In December 2011, vicepresident academic Anne Lavack advised board chair Schoberg about McKendry. Kuzyk herself contacted Kwantlen's human resources department, where she was allegedly "warned" against making a formal complaint against the president.
The university's special adviser to the president, Mary Jane Stenberg, also tried to intervene, contacting human resources, and, later, when it appeared nothing had changed, the board chair.
"At all material times, chair Schoberg and the university knew there were several victims of president McKendry's behaviour," the civil claim says. "Employees were fearful to come forward... thinking their careers would be in jeopardy."
On July 13, 2012, Schoberg asked Kuzyk to meet him and allegedly "encouraged her to confide in him... [offering her] protection against any reprisal for coming forward and guaranteed that her employment would not, in any way, be negatively impacted."
A month before McKendry's time as transition president was set to end, Stenberg was allegedly fired without cause. A few days before McKendry left, Lavack was also fired.
For Kuzyk, the situation did not improve under the new president. On March 27, 2013, she was fired.
The Sunday Province was unable to reach Kuzyk for this story.
Because the documents were filed Friday, many Kwantlen officials were unaware of them and did not want to comment.
Reached at his home in Langley, McKendry said he was no longer president when Kuzyk was fired.
"I don't feel I need to defend myself," he said of the allegations. "I don't want to get into it, period, because it's become a legal matter."
Board chair Schoberg said he remembers the situation, but was not aware of the court case.
"It was something I took very seriously," he said of the concerns he heard from staff at the time.
He sought legal council and investigated the matter. He did not bring it before the board.
Schoberg also explained that hiring and firing decisions below the level of the president are not made by the board, and he was not involved in Kuzyk's termination. The board was, however, made aware that Stenberg and Lavack were leaving.
Schoberg said he was satisfied Kuzyk's allegations were properly investigated and dealt with: "Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind that it was done correctly."
Kuzyk is seeking damages for breach of contract, claiming she was dismissed without notice and without just cause.
She claims she suffers from an illness as a result of the treatment she received and that she has been unable to find a new job. At the date of her dismissal, she was receiving a salary of about $89,100 a year.
Kwantlen has 21 days to file a response to the claim.
@ Copyright 2013