$300K suit alleging ‘bullying’ in Sudbury mayor’s office settled out of court

Canadian news headlines

A lawsuit that accused the mayor’s top staffer of “bullying” and “stalking” has been resolved the day the case was to be heard in Sudbury court.

Alicia Lachance, a former administrative assistant to Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger, filed the $300,000 lawsuit against the city in 2016 claiming wrongful dismissal and “aggravated and punitive damages” for being subjected to a “poisonous work environment.”

The case was set to go to trial at the Sudbury courthouse starting on Monday, but the city communications department told CBC in an e-mail that “the parties involved have reached resolution.” 

“Because the case involves confidential employment matters, we are not in a position to offer further comment.”

The city has not revealed how much was spent defending itself against this lawsuit. 

Calls to Lachance’s lawyer for comment were not returned.

Melissa Zanette is the chief of staff to Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger. (Twitter)

The suit focused on Melissa Zanette, who worked on Bigger’s election campaign in 2014 and became his chief of staff early in 2015.

Lachance alleged that she was subjected to “daily criticism” from Zanette, describing her behaviour as “radical, erratic and unprofessional.”

The suit claimed that Zanette was verbally abusive to Lachance, “stalked” her on Facebook and yelled at her when she brought her the wrong pair of shoes.

“The frequency and severity of this inappropriate behaviour … escalated after most of the mayor’s staff was either terminated or left on their own because of the untenable atmosphere in the mayor’s office,” the suit reads.

Lachance claimed that after Zanette “thoroughly humiliated” her by commenting on what she wore to a meeting with the mayor, Lachance went on sick leave and then shortly after filed a formal complaint with the city’s human resources department.

Her statement of claims says that a third party investigator looked into her concerns, but concluded that the stress in the office had more to do with serving a high-profile public figure than Zanette herself.

Lachance said she was “shocked” in November 2015 when Mayor Bigger called her into his office to fire her.

Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

The city filed a statement of defence, denying all of Lachance’s allegations.

It claimed that there were many “errors and inconsistencies” with Lachance’s work, including missed deadlines and frequent spelling and grammar mistakes.

The city’s statement of defence says she was given “support and constructive feedback on how to improve her performance” but “grew hostile.”

Mayor Brian Bigger released a public statement in 2016 saying he “categorically” refutes the claims in the lawsuit.

“I stand firmly behind Ms. Zanette and her work, and believe that the position of the City and my office will be upheld by the court.”

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