Lawsuit against TAG Cornwall, board members

Members of The Art Gallery meet during an information session on March 10, 2015. The former executive director is suing the art gallery and two of its directors. (Cornwall Newswatch/File)

CORNWALL – The former executive director of The Art Gallery (TAG) in Cornwall is suing the gallery and two of its directors for a total of $500,000 in connection to the loss of her job.

In the suit, issued April 15, 2015, Sylvie Lizotte is seeking damages against the Cornwall Gallery Society (known as TAG Cornwall), a registered charity, for $100,000 for wrongful dismissal, plus $100,000 for intentional infliction of mental distress and $50,000 for aggravated and punitive damages.

The suit further seeks claims against board members Jamie Gilcig and Wyatt Walsh, jointly and severally, of $100,000 for breach of employment contract and interfering in contractual relations, plus $100,000 for intentional infliction of mental distress and $50,000 in aggravated and punitive damages.

The court documents, accessed and reviewed by Cornwall Newswatch, are nearly 30 pages long and constitute the lawsuit, a statement of defence and the reply to the defence.

Plaintiff: An ‘orchestrated campaign’ to remove Lizotte

In her statement of claim, Lizotte, 54, alleges the two directors “embarked upon a deliberate, malicious and orchestrated campaign” to discredit her and “induce her dismissal from employment.”

She had worked for the art gallery since May 1994.

The claim further alleges that she was on “forced vacation leave” and had been subject of a series of harassing and “berating” emails on Feb. 19 by Gilcig, causing her to become sick.

A week later, Walsh is said to have served Lizotte a letter from the TAG board suspending her without pay for alleged insubordination, according to the claim.

The claim further states that the defendants were served a letter March 3, 2015 from Lizotte’s legal counsel stating the suspension was unlawful and requested a reversal. The request to rescind the dismissal was never responded to, said the claim, and Lizotte stopped reporting for duty March 10, 2015.

A day later, a registered letter to Lizotte notified her she was terminated with cause, reads the document.

At the time, Lizotte was earning $45,000 a year as executive director of the art gallery.

“Given the Plaintiff’s age (54), her 21 years of service, and the senior level of the position she held as TAG’s Executive Director, the Plaintiff states that she was entitled to 24 months’ notice of the termination of her employment, or compensation in lieu,” states the claim.

Defence: ‘Relationship with artists was poor’

In a statement of defence filed June 2, 2015, the defendants allege TAG Cornwall was “fraught with a lack of oversight over financial and/or budgetary matters” which included late applications for government funding. There are also allegations of HST returns not filed, a lack of volunteer lists and missing operational documents. Some of those claims are disputed by Lizotte’s counsel in a reply to the defence on June 12, 2015.

The defendants claim Lizotte had “difficult relations with artists” and that the “relationship with artists was poor.”

The defence claim states that at no time did Gilcig or Walsh try to discredit or cause harm to the plaintiff’s professional and personal reputation, there was no attempt to undermine her role as executive director and there was no attempt to force her to resign.

The statement of defence further states that Jamie Gilcig had become part of the board after being asked by the plaintiff (Lizotte) because she believed her position was in jeopardy.

The defendants further claim that Lizotte had been sick after suffering from a cold and deny any of their actions had caused her illness.

The defence is asking for a dismissal of the case.

None of the statements of claim or defence have been proven in court.

A date to hear the case in a Cornwall court has not been set.

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