Paul Woods, who was fired on Monday as president and CEO of London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), has filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against LHSC, claiming he was dismissed in bad faith and that he notified board chair Amy Walby about his travel to the United States since March last year, first notifying her in June, then twice afterward.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday is claiming $1 million in general damages for “loss of reputation,” plus $1.4 million in salary, pension and benefits in his contract, which was set to expire in January 2023. The claim is also asking LHSC for $100,000, saying the hospital breached sections of the Ontario Human Rights Code in how Woods was fired.
The statement includes allegations not yet proven in court and it’s not clear yet whether LHSC has filed a statement of defence. LHSC, which operates London’s largest hospital and employs 15,000 people, has not yet responded to a request for comment regarding the suit.
Woods’s firing was publicly announced Monday after LHSC revealed Friday that he had travelled to the United States five times since March, despite the federal government’s recommendation against non-essential cross-border travel as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
On Friday, the board of directors said in a statement that it continued to support the CEO’s leadership and that it “is aware Dr. Woods continued to travel for personal reasons given the separation from his immediate family.”
In a statement announcing his firing Monday, LHSC said “it had no advance notice of and did not approve his travel outside Canada.”
Claim cites emails with board chair
However in his statement of claim, Woods says he informed Walby and Susan Nickle, LHSC’s chief counsel and privacy officer, about his travel to the United States, first in June and again to the board chair in August and October.
The claim said Woods, a Canadian citizen who holds permanent resident status in the U.S., was making the trips to visit his daughter and his fiancée in Michigan because he has no immediate family in London and that restrictions on U.S. travel “imposed significant hardship” on him.
The claim states that on June 16 Woods discussed the situation with Walby and Nickle and sent an email to Walby. The claim says Walby responded with an email that said: “I appreciate the heads up on your need to travel to the US and the plan to self-isolate as required thereafter, and comfortable that it fits into existing policy re WFH [Work from Home] for leaders.”
An Aug. 5 email from Woods to Walby cited in the claim says Woods informed her of his need to work remotely from Michigan in part because travel restrictions prevent his fiancée, a U.S. citizen, from coming to London.
In that email Woods admits there may be “some optics issues” and asks: “Is this something I should bring to the Board?”
The statement of claim cites an email Walby sent to Woods the next day, Aug. 6, clearing him to travel to the U.S. As for the board’s approval, Woods says Walby told him this in an email: “I support what you need to do on this. I don’t think the Board needs to approve but we can give them a heads up.”
Claim calls LHSC statement ‘inaccurate and defamatory’
Woods’s claim says the Jan. 11 statement was “inaccurate and defamatory.”
It also says Woods was following Walby’s advice, and that she suggested no other approval was needed.
According to Woods’ claim, Walby “took it upon herself to speak for the Board about Dr. Woods’ planned travel. She advised him that he did not need to seek its approval. She took it upon herself to approve of his plans. At no time did she provide guidance to Dr. Woods, who reported to her and the Board, that any other approval process was needed.”
Woods’s claim says the LHSC board’s Jan. 11 media statement left the impression that Woods wasn’t upfront about his travel and “knowingly and deliberately created this impression to attempt to spare itself from criticism, while inaccurately attempting to shift blame and responsibility to Dr. Woods.”