Woodley sues
Former superintendent takes school district back to court

Dawn Ostrem
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 31/00) - A statement of claim outlining millions of dollars in damages sought by Dr. Kenneth Woodley was filed May 24 in Supreme Court.

The defendants in the wrongful dismissal suit include members of the Yellowknife Education District No. 1 as well as former minister of Education, Culture and Employment Michael Miltenberger, the commissioner of the Northwest Territories, lawyer Shannon Gullberg and two unnamed defendants.

"I heard it was a possibility so I wasn't totally blindsided," said Miltenberger, now MLA for the Thebacha riding. "The government gets sued as a matter of course and there's a whole legal process that kicks into gear when these notices are filed."

The suit comes less than a month after the outcome of a judicial review over the procedures used when Woodley was fired as superintendent of the school district last October. The court failed to find fault in the procedures used by the district.

But the wrongful dismissal suit is aimed at proving there was no reason for Woodley to have been fired in the first place -- the plaintiff's position being that his dismissal was a conspiracy involving the district and the GNWT.

"(This suit) outlines precisely how I've been wronged and some of the damages that have accrued," Woodley said. "I'm doing this in order to recover damages that have been brought upon me through being wrongfully dismissed."

The statement of claim given as a notice to the defendants outlines each of their positions in Woodley's suit.

It claims that in November 1998 the commissioner of the Northwest Territories, through the minister of Health and Social Services, contracted Gullberg to do a study of the child abuse protocol within the district. The Gullberg report said Woodley violated the protocol and the Child Welfare Act by asking that a report be made to the board rather than the Department of Health and Social Services.

The findings of the report allegedly prompted Miltenberger to offer GNWT assistance in the dismissal of Woodley saying the board "had a serious personnel problem."

The remaining board members are accused in the statement of unfairly conducting a meeting on Oct. 9 that resulted in Woodley's firing.

It said, "The defendant board conducted the dismissal proceeding in a manner which denied Dr. Woodley a fair hearing." Woodley alleged in the statement, "The proceedings were tainted by the incurable bias of certain members. The board knew the proceedings were unfair but proceeded anyhow."

The two unnamed defendants are not known to Woodley at this time but he said "if it comes to light that others have been involved they can be named."

Woodley is seeking punitive damages ($1 million), damage for loss of income ($650,000), aggravated damages (325,000), other special damages to be particularized at trial, interest, legal fees and other relief the court sees just.

Woodley said he has spent close to $100,000 on legal fees so far.

"This takes up my time and this is my major concern right now," he said about the legal battle. "Once this is rectified and my name is cleared I can be made whole again and then get on with my life.

"There are other employers around and once my name is cleared I'll be able to move on into other work," he said, adding, "My immediate plan is to stay in Yellowknife. We have no reason to want to leave -- Yellowknife is my home."

Judith Knapp, current district superintendent who is also a defendant in the suit, said there is little she can say at this point about the suit for fear of legal implications, but she did state her frustration.

"I'm disappointed that this is happening but I'm not going to let it stop our momentum," she said. "At this point in time I just want to move forward. I'm sure we'll get through this, too."