The former Brampton Integrity Commissioner is suing the city and the councilors who voted to fire her for $20 million in damages, in a lawsuit that appears to have the backing of Mayor Patrick Brown.
In a 22-page statement, labor lawyer Muneeza Sheikh said her firing in March was part of a plot by several advisers unhappy with previous or ongoing ethics investigations she was conducting against them. Her claim also alleges councilors were in conflict when they passed “illegal” motions that resulted in her being fired.
She also alleges that they defamed her when they publicly stated that she overcharged her work.
None of his claims have been proven in court, but the lawsuit is the latest example of political turbulence to rock Brampton, where the grievances and disputes of a deeply divided city council have come to the fore in the public eye.
In her complaint, Sheikh said three advisers had ongoing ethics inquiries when they initiated and voted on the process for her firing.
Its application also alleges that Coun. Gurpreet Dhillon had shown ‘animosity’ towards her and had spoken publicly about trying to remove her from her ‘vindication’ post, following her 2020 investigation into a complaint from a local resident that Dhillon sexually harassed a local businesswoman while on a trade mission to Turkey in 2019. Sheikh’s in-depth investigation found Dhillon had breached the code of conduct and the council voted to suspend her salary for 90 days on the basis of his conclusions.
Sheikh’s report was not a finding of foul play or guilt, and the allegations have not been tested in court. Dhillon denied the allegations.
A civil lawsuit brought by the alleged victim was recently settled out of court.
“My client’s dismissal as Integrity Commissioner was purely retaliatory,” Sheikh’s attorney, Kathryn Marshall of Levitt Sheikh LLP, said in a statement. “She was obviously targeted for dismissal because of a decision she made regarding a serious allegation of sexual assault against a counsellor…
“She was the subject of an outrageous smear campaign because she did her job well,” Marshall added. “We look forward to justice and accountability and bringing this matter to court.”
Sheikh is suing the six advisers for $3 million each, and one adviser, Pat Fortini, for an additional $75,000 in libel damages. She is suing the city for $1 million for breach of contract and another million in punitive damages.
The advisers named in the lawsuit with Dhillon and Fortini: Martin Medeiros, Doug Whilans, Charmaine Williams and Jeff Bowman.
According to the lawsuit, these six councilors voted as a “block” on matters before the city council.
Dhillon did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Neither Whilans nor Williams, who is now the MPP for Brampton Centre.
Bowman, who declared a conflict in the vote and did not vote to fire Sheikh, said he could not comment.
The city of Brampton has said it intends to defend itself.
In an email exchange obtained by the Star between Mayor Patrick Brown and Sheikh’s lawyer Denise Cooney, Brown said he told Sheikh that Dhillon “said it was his mission and his priority to get rid of Ms Sheikh as Integrity Commissioner”.
Brown also said in the June 30 email to Cooney that Fortini told him the only reason the other councilors voted to replace Sheikh was to “make Mr Dhillon happy” and that had nothing to do with it. to do with his fees.
“That’s what it was all about,” Brown said in an interview with the Star, confirming the email and conversation. “I think anyone who followed this knows what it was about.”
Fortini denied Brown’s allegation, telling the Star “it had nothing to do with Gurpreet. (That was a year and a half ago. Indeed, when we saw the bills and the bill, we said, ‘enough is enough.’”
Fortini said it was Sheikh’s fees, which had approached $750,000 since 2020, that was the main reason for his contract termination. He said the Region of Peel Integrity Commissioner charges a flat fee of $110,000 a year.
In the complaint, Sheikh said his billable rate was $550 an hour and that no “block” member had “previously raised concerns” about his fees. She said that despite councilors’ objection to her billable model, they then voted to hire a new Integrity Commissioner who also uses hourly billable pricing.
But his main claim in the claim is that councilors – including those who themselves face investigations – at a closed council meeting changed the bylaw that governs the removal of a commissioner from office. integrity to require a two-thirds majority to move to a simple majority. .
A few days later, the motion to remove Sheikh passed by a vote of 5 to 3. Two councilors, including Bowman, declared a conflict due to matters being considered by Sheikh.
According to the lawsuit, Bowman voted to change the settlement that led to his firing, which is why he is named in the lawsuit.
Brown was not at the March meeting, leaving just eight of 11 council members for the vote.
“The city terminated the contract after the city council passed two motions that were illegal without the support of a two-thirds majority of the city council, and contrary to the principles of natural justice, procedural fairness and democratic principles,” according to Sheikh’s assertion.
Sheikh also filed a request to void the settlement which led to his dismissal. Legal action is ongoing, Marshall confirmed.
“Integrity Commissioners play an important role in municipalities. They should never be fired in bad faith via procedural trickery and illegal closed-door meetings,” Marshall said.
In an interview, Brown called the board’s decision to fire Sheikh “unlawful”.
“It was a reward for his conviction against Coun. (Gurpreet) Dhillon. The councilor supporting him told me that was how they got Gurpreet to vote on other issues. They promised him that.
Medeiros also denied that his support for terminating Sheikh’s contract was Dhillon-related and called Brown’s allegation “absurd” and a “pure lie”.
Medeiros fears that if successful, Sheikh’s trial would “set a province-wide precedent that individual councilors could be prosecuted based on their votes.”
Medeiros said Brown’s public characterization of Sheikh’s contract termination as illegal puts the city in legal jeopardy.
“It almost sounds like he’s asking for the city to be sued,” Medeiros said. “Mayor Brown is very irresponsible.”
Brown, however, told the Star that he thought Sheikh’s ousting was “unethical” and that exposing him was the right thing to do.
“You always do the right thing if you tell the truth. That’s why I thought firing the Integrity Commissioner was a mistake and everyone knew what it was about,’ he said.
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