Agency employee fired over complaint alleging falsified information, board rules

The New Brunswick Employment and Labour Board found a link between an employee's official complaint against two senior ONB executives and his subsequent firing. (Opportunities New Brunswick - image credit)
The New Brunswick Employment and Labour Board found a link between an employee's official complaint against two senior ONB executives and his subsequent firing. (Opportunities New Brunswick - image credit)

A former employee of Opportunities New Brunswick was fired because he filed a complaint alleging that his bosses gave "unethical directions" and falsified information in a government document, according to a recent labour ruling.

The New Brunswick Employment and Labour Board found a link between Scott Campbell's official complaint against two senior ONB executives and his subsequent firing.

Campbell told the board one of the two executives, a vice-president, abused his authority and harassed him when he objected to a memorandum to cabinet that included a reference that he considered "improper."

The vice-president of investment attraction at ONB "asked Mr. Campbell and a coworker if they had a problem with this inclusion," Campbell told the board, according to its ruling.

"When Mr. Campbell replied yes, the VPIA became angry and said, 'I think we're going to have a problem with this' and 'something's going to happen here.'"

The Dec. 21, 2023, labour board ruling does not reach a conclusion about whether the allegation of falsified information is true. There has been no ruling in a separate lawsuit by Campbell in which he makes the same claim.

Internal review ordered

In that lawsuit, Campbell identities the former vice-president as Jean-Paul Robicheau and the former director as Mark Cormier.

Robicheau turned down an interview request.

"My only comment is that these are frivolous claims," he said in a LinkedIn message. Cormier did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement to CBC News, ONB's CEO Traci Simmons said Campbell's allegation "prompted an internal review and it was determined there was no impropriety.

"We are confident falsified information did not reach cabinet and decisions were not made premised on false information."

ONB's mandate includes investment attraction — the recruiting of companies to set up operations in the province using subsidies such as payroll rebates.

Comments about 360Insights: lawsuit

According to the lawsuit, the discussion was about 360Insights, a company that opened an office in Moncton in 2019 thanks in part to $2.1 million in payroll rebates from Opportunities New Brunswick.

ONB said at the time the company would be hiring more than 200 people.

Documents filed in the lawsuit show Campbell disagreed with Robicheau about how the project was described when cabinet was asked to approve funding, including how quickly 360Insights would create jobs and what the salaries would be.

In an affidavit Campbell says he objected to "the provision of inaccurate information to the Government of New Brunswick which represented probable harm to the public."

Campbell claims he disagreed with Robicheau's instruction that he call the company a "shared services" provider in the memorandum to cabinet.

He quotes Robicheau telling him that ministers would "understand what that means. … We want them to see this as a huge growth opportunity."

Both men left ONB

360Insights CEO Jason Atkins did not respond to an interview request.

Robicheau left ONB in 2020 and Cormier left in 2022, according to their Linked In profiles.

The board ruled that an outside human resources firm didn't fully investigate Campbell's complaint, which he made under the province's Respectful Workplace Policy.

The board concluded there was "an evidentiary nexus" between Campbell's 2019 complaint and his firing in July 2020.

Campbell made the complaint "in good faith and … had a positive obligation to bring his concerns forward based on the terms of his employment contract," the board said.

"The ONB Complaint was not a vague list of general concerns about a manager. It set out very detailed and specific allegations of misconduct by two senior managers within ONB, supported by documentation."

Act protects employees

The province's Employment Standards Act says an employer can't fire or discipline an employee for "the giving of information or evidence" of a violation of provincial or federal law.

Opportunities New Brunswick was created by the Brian Gallant government in 2015 as the province's lead economic development agency.

Campbell was hired by ONB in 2016 as a business development executive working in investment attraction.

ONB denied that he was fired because of his complaint, arguing that it was about his job performance, including being late for work, not responding to calls and emails and not being in the office.

Campbell filed the complaint in August 2019, claiming Robicheau and Cormier violated the province's Respectful Workplace Policy "by engaging in harassment, vulgar language, intimidation, and abuse of authority."

ONB hired Montana HR, a consulting firm, in January 2020 to examine Campbell's complaint.

ONB dismissed Campbell's complaint

Based on its report, the agency dismissed the complaint, despite Montana not interviewing the two executives or 17 potential witnesses Campbell suggested.

Campbell was told in a performance review on July 8, 2020, that he was making a "good contribution" to ONB, but was then was fired at the end of that month without warning.

Steve Milbury, who became Campbell's boss in 2019, told the board that Campbell's behaviour was "weird."

Milbury said he was "frustrated that Mr. Campbell was always talking about his complaints during working hours," even though Robicheau had left ONB and Cormier was no longer his boss.

A Europe-based consultant had trouble contacting Campbell, and at one point a government department told ONB they didn't want him in their office again because of the way he acted, Milbury told the board.

"None of the things I was trying to do worked, he was not responding," he said, according to the ruling. "I told myself I can't afford to spend more time on this."

Milbury "stated that he lost the ability to trust Mr. Campbell with clients," the board said.

The ruling says the employment and labour board will decide on a remedy for Campbell if he and ONB can't reach an agreement.

Campbell told CBC News the firing has left him near bankruptcy but he would continue to press his claims.

"I was simply doing what any public servant should do, or is obligated to do."