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Former College of the North Atlantic employees say public, government should be alarmed over dismissals without cause

Glenn Thorne is a former vice-president at the College of the North Atlantic, Qatar campus. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM
Glenn Thorne is a former vice-president at the College of the North Atlantic, Qatar campus. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM - Barb Sweet

When Glenn Thorne read a Telegram story about the dismissal without cause of Karen Antle from the College of the North Atlantic (CNA), it triggered his own experience.

“I’ve moved on. I am doing fine. It hurt. It will always hurt,” he said over a cup of coffee while he explained his reaction to the story.

“But I wasn’t surprised, I guess. … The culture runs deep in the college now.”

Thorne was also dismissed without cause — in April 2012, while employed at the college’s Qatar campus.

Banned from the property — Thorne’s interpretation was that lasts for life and he can’t even take a course at any campus if he wanted to — he was allowed to stay in the staff accommodations, as his wife was also an employee, but had to drop her off each day outside the property in the scorching Middle Eastern summer heat.

They eventually returned to Newfoundland and Labrador, where Thorne now operates a business in the metro St. John’s area.

Like Antle, Thorne said he had a promising career that ended because of what he feels was college dysfunction.

“What I saw develop around 2009 — it was developing over many years — but in 2009 it really hit home. Anyone who is deemed any kind of threat, you get rid of them so you can stay on top. It’s almost like politics,” he said of how he perceived the management style.

According to Thorne’s dismissal letter, the college found no grounds for a harassment complaint he’d filed, alleging Thorne’s allegations against two people were “vexatious and frivolous.”

Thorne’s interpretation of his dismissal is with cause on a without cause basis — a bit of a tongue-twister for sure.

He was kept on payroll with benefits until the end of his contract a few months after the dismissal.

Prior to that, he had figured he was next on the list.

“I saw so many careers that were destroyed, good people — very good people, not bad people, good people,” Thorne said.

By Thorne’s own admission, it’s a long, complicated story that includes a workplace assessment report he said was buried. He eventually got it through access to information legislation.

A 2012 report by the province’s citizens' representative reveals a tangly tale that includes an email of Thorne's being tampered with by a superior.

Several thousand pages were reviewed in the investigation and ultimately, according to the report, the college was supposed to apologize to Thorne.

Thorne said just before he got the report, he was out of a job.

He said he fought hard to resolve differences between him and the person he reported to. Though he was in a contractual position, he said it was typical for contracts to be renewed over and over again if the college wanted to keep you on. If they didn't it was a different story.

“They walk you to the door, pay out your contract so you have nothing to fight for,” he said.

Starting his career in 1987 as an instructor at age 27 in Clarenville, and eventually moving on to St. John’s, Thorne said his early mentors and their progressive style made him feel committed to CNA.

“I loved the college. … I was going to be a career employee,” Thorne said.

But by 2009-10, there seemed to be an entirely different culture, and relations between Thorne and his boss were not good.

He was told in December 2009 that his position of vice-president of learning resources at the Doha, Qatar, campus was being eliminated from the organizational structure, so he returned as an instructor after that contract expired.

Previously, he had spent 15 years as a union employee, and was at the Qatar campus for 10 years.

Thorne said an internal report compiled by an outside consultant that extensively questioned managers and executives there identified feelings of mistrust, inadequate followup, non-engagement and poor leadership, the citizens' representative's investigation noted. Thorne said the report was not released to participants as promised on an agreed timeline, and was rewritten.

The citizens' representative's investigation found the way the assessment report was distributed was in contravention of its terms of reference.

The report also said the removal of Thorne’s position was done without due process, an email of his had been tampered with and his superior took advantage of their position to help ensure his contract was not renewed. However, as that person was no longer with the campus, it was expected a new upper rank would put past issues behind them.

And it acknowledged that animosity among senior managers at the Qatar campus created a unique challenge for CNA to address.

It was recommended the college write a letter of apology for allowing Thorne’s position of vice-president of learning resources to be eliminated from the Qatar campus structure without due process, for failing to adequately address the inappropriate behaviour of his superior and for failure to honour the terms of reference of the workplace assessment.

It also said he was owed an apology for “misleading and contradictory statements made to him by various senior members of CNA.”

Karen Antle of Grand Falls-Windsor was dismissed without cause by the College of the North Atlantic in September. SALTWIRE NETWORK FILE PHOTO - Nicholas Mercer
Karen Antle of Grand Falls-Windsor was dismissed without cause by the College of the North Atlantic in September. SALTWIRE NETWORK FILE PHOTO 

 

The Telegram was unable to get the investigation report or its outcome verified by the Office of the Citizens' Representative (OCR) due to privacy laws. The electronic document, however, included a letter written on the office’s letterhead.

Barry Fleming was the representative in 2002.

“While citizens are free to talk about or distribute their own reports, unfortunately I am unable to confirm or deny any details about singular investigations undertaken by OCR that haven’t been publicized by this office, due to the secrecy and privacy provisions of (Sections) 13 and 27 of the Citizens’ Representative Act,” current representative Bradley Moss said in an email statement.

CNA was asked for comment, but Friday reiterated what it said in response to an inquiry earlier this month about Antle’s story — that it would not comment on any human resources matters concerning any current or former employees.

Antle, meanwhile, said she has heard from several employees who were dismissed without cause, as well as supporters within the college.

“It’s not a good workplace and lots of people are telling me that but are afraid to say (anything) publicly,” the Grand-Falls-Windsor woman said Friday.

Antle worked at CNA — a Crown agency with 17 campus locations throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, and one in Qatar — for almost 20 years and was dismissed without cause in September, with the college covering a year’s pay, including vacation pay and step increases.

Barb Sweet is an enterprise reporter in St. John’s.

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