Paul Woods suing LHSC for $2.5 million, claiming wrongful dismissal

Paul Woods, who was fired on Monday as president and CEO of London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), has filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against LHSC, claiming he was fired in bad faith and that he notified board Chair Amy Walby about his travel to the United States in June of last year and two times afterward.  

The lawsuit is claming $1 million in general damages for “loss of reputation” plus $1.4 million in salary, pension and benefits in his contract through to January 2023. The claim is also asking LHSC for $100,000, claiming the hospital breached sections of the Ontario Human Rights Code in firing Woods. 

The statement includes allegations not yet proven in court and it’s not clear yet whether LHSC has filed a statement of defence. LHSC has not yet responded to a request for comment regarding the suit. 

Woods’s firing was publicly announced Monday after LHSC revealed Friday that he travelled to the United States five times since March despite the federal government’s recommendation against non-essential cross-boarder travel as part of measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Friday, the board of directors said in a statement that it continued to support the CEO’s leadership and that it “is aware Dr. Woods continued to travel for personal reasons given the separation from his immediate family.”

In a statement announcing his firing Monday, LHSC said “it had no advance notice of and did not approve his travel outside Canada.”

However in his statement of claim, Woods says he informed Walby and Susan Nickle, LHSC’s chief counsel and privacy officer, about his travel United States, first in June and again to the board chair in August and October. 

The claim said Woods, a Canadian citizen who hold permanent residence status in the U.S., was making the trips to visit his daughter, fiancee and former spouse in Michigan because he has no immediate family in London and that restrictions on U.S. travel “imposed significant hardship” on him. 

The claim cites that on June 16 Woods discussed the situation with Walby and Nickle and sent an email to Walby. The claim says Walby responded with an email that says:

“I appreciate the heads up on your need to travel to the US and the plan to self-isolate as required thereafter, and comfortable that it fits into existing policy re WFH [Work from Home] for leaders.”

 An Aug. 5 email from Woods to Walby cited in the claim says Woods again informed her of his need to work remotely from Michigan in part because travel restrictions prevent his fiancee, a U.S. citizen, from coming to London.

In that email Woods admits there may be “some optics issues” and asks “Is this something I should bring to the Board?”

The statement of claim cites an email Walby sent to Woods the next day, Aug. 6, clearing him to travel to the U.S. As for the board’s approval, Woods says Walby told him this in an email: 

“I support what you need to do on this. I don’t think the Board needs to approve but we can give them a heads up.”

That contradicts what LHSC said in its Monday statement announcing Woods’s firing. 

That statement said: 

“While the Board was aware of Dr. Woods’ personal circumstances, it had no advance notice of and did not approve his travel outside Canada. There is no process for the Board of a public hospital to approve a chief executive officer’s personal travel.”

LHSC has not responded to requests from the CBC for clarification about what the board knew about Woods’s travel plans.

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