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A 5th lawsuit filed against Penticton Indigenous friendship centre by ex-employee

The five lawsuits share similar elements and stories about the centre’s operations
The Ooknakane Friendship Centre in Penticton. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)

Penticton’s Ooknakane Friendship Centre is facing a fifth lawsuit from a former employee for an alleged wrongful dismissal.

Tanja Wilson filed the latest lawsuit on May 16, and elements of her claim echo claims made by the former executive director Matthew Baran in his own lawsuit.

Wilson worked for the centre in a range of positions, including as an interim executive director, as employment and life skills training coordinator and as an Aboriginal family support worker.

The lawsuit alleges that Wilson was pushed out “specifically due to the inappropriate and questionable conduct of the OFC Board of Directors and other employees of OFC, including but not limited to in OFC’s ongoing operations and financial transparency as a Society and charity serving the local Penticton Indigenous community, under the British Columbia Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.”

According to the claim, Wilson was earning approximately $71,302.40 per year, alongside extended benefits, and working more than full-time hours. The lawsuit seeks to have Wilson paid for the extra hours and work she was doing as well as the lack of notice required for her length of employment and damages for her wrongful termination and legal fees.

READ MORE: 4th lawsuit against Penticton Indigenous friendship centre for ‘wrongful termination’

According to Wilson’s lawsuit, from the moment she started working at the centre one particular program manager was a “gossip and rumourmonger” who actively and often sent messages to other employees through Whatsapp.

A number of those messages were allegedly focused on Baran and his work as executive director.

The messages picked up speed after Baran received a sexual harassment complaint from an employee in 2021 and arranged for an independent investigation, according to the lawsuit. Baran left shortly after the investigation was launched as part of a pre-arranged leave to take care of his ill mother.

More messages were spread in the days that he left, allegedly including rumours that Baran had quit, or insinuating he could be physically dangerous.

The messages were allegedly shared both with employees at the centre and with clients.

Part of Baran’s lawsuit is seeking damages to his reputation from rumours and lies that he claims were distributed by the centre and its board of directors.

While Baran was away, according to Wilson’s lawsuit, she was forced to step up and take on handling not only his clients but also those of the program manager, who had taken to being absent from work.

After returning to work after New Years, Wilson and other employees found several offices appeared to have been ransacked, the work computers and email service were locked and there was absolutely no money anywhere in the building to allow the centre staff to restart the OFC Food Bank, as the donated supplies had been depleted or exhausted completely leading up to Christmas and the two-week food bank closure.

An acting executive director was then hired, and Wilson approached them about being compensated for extra work she had done covering for the program manager and Baran. Her requests were allegedly brushed off or directed to the centre’s finance section, which is where they ended.

After covering for the program manager, as well as for the acting executive director while they had COVID-19 for two weeks in February, 2022, Wilson was unwilling to provide further work without appropriate compensation.

In May, Wilson resigned, in what she claims was the result of a constructive dismissal by the centre.

In addition to Baran’s lawsuit, alleging he was pushed out by the centre’s board of directors, three other lawsuits have been filed alleging employees had been pushed out for being non-Indigenous or not Indigenous enough for the centre.

No response to Wilson’s lawsuit has been filed and none of the claims of any of the lawsuits have been proven in court.

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Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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