September 21, 2023


Equality opinion

‘You have to get along,’ judge tells lawyer for former Northlands cashiers on contentious second day of wrongful dismissal, defamation trial

Nineteen former cashiers sued Edmonton Northlands and ex-CEO Tim Reid for $9.7 million after they were terminated in 2015.

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A wrongful dismissal and defamation trial against Edmonton Northlands began Tuesday with an opening statement from the plaintiffs’ lawyer, during which she was repeatedly cautioned by the judge to avoid personal attacks on her opposing counsel.

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Nineteen former cashiers sued Edmonton Northlands and ex-CEO Tim Reid for $9.7 million after they were terminated in 2015.

At the time, Reid said an internal audit found theft occurred in 12 to 19 per cent of parking transactions, to the tune of $1 million a year.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Glenda Pidde, denied the allegations, saying it tarred all 38 former parking employees with the same brush and hurt their career prospects, their relationships and their mental and physical health.

During her opening statement, Pidde called Northlands’s alleged behaviour “the worst abuse of power” she has seen in her career.

“I simply cannot understand how an employer can treat someone like (Reid and Northlands) treated each one of these plaintiffs,” she said, noting one of her clients is 84 years old.

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She called the conduct “despicable” and something a “good human being” would be unable to understand. 

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Pidde was repeatedly warned by Justice Thomas Rothwell Tuesday, including after a harangue against the defendant’s lawyer about a document production issue that delayed the start of trial Monday. The judge cautioned that her opening statement was “getting a bit into the weeds” and that Pidde was veering into “personal attacks” on her counterpart, David Risling.

At one point, after Rothwell asked Pidde to speak closer to the microphone, she said “I’m trying to stay awake, sir.” She acknowledged she felt “haggard” after reviewing the disputed documents, which she received late Monday afternoon.

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Former Northlands president Tim Reid speaks with the media in 2017.
Former Northlands president Tim Reid speaks with the media in 2017. Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

Theft allegations

Founded in 1879, Northlands was once Edmonton’s premier social club, service organization and powerbroker. Last summer, the organization lost its remaining K-Days and Farmfair events to Explore Edmonton, which said Northlands was “winding down” operations. 

On Oct. 5, 2015, the organization terminated its parking staff, citing an audit carried out by KPMG. A few days later, Reid told media the loss was “of such significance” that they could not wait for a criminal investigation to uncover specific wrongdoing.

“To be clear, we did see evidence that people were taking money,” he said at the time. The allegation was also repeated in an internal email to Northlands’s thousands of employees and volunteers.  

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Reid said the parking employees were fired without cause and given severance. He added: “we’ve been very clear that there are some exceptional members on that team.

Reid resigned as CEO in early 2018 to take a job in Regina.

Rothwell heard from just one witness Tuesday who lost her job at Northlands in the 2015 termination.

Lori Ann Wooldridge said the circumstances of her termination caused her mental and physical problems and held back her career prospects.

She also described the pain the allegation caused her elderly father, who died in 2018.

“We buried him with him thinking the world thought his daughter was a thief,” she said.  

The remainder of the day was spent arguing over issues including document production and Pidde providing a witness list to the defendants. At various points, Pidde claimed she was being “ambushed” by the defendants, who were trying to “take me out before I even get in here to give my opening statement.”

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“Not only are they abusing my clients, they’re trying to abuse me,” she said.

Pidde also alleged the defendant’s legal team had called her a “liar.”

During a contentious discussion about the two parties agreeing on an exhibit book, Rothwell addressed Pidde’s behaviour toward Risling.

“You have to get along with him,” he said. “You do as an officer of the court. We all have to get along, we’re going to be together for three weeks.

“You need to be respectful, you need to try to advance the process.”

Rothwell later noted the trial was already a day behind schedule.

“We’re not using court time efficiently, (and) we have an obligation to do that.”

The trial is scheduled to last 14 days.

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