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Colleen May is suing the Alberta government for $2.1M, alleging wrongful termination

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Alberta’s former human rights commission chief has filed a lawsuit against the justice minister for “malicious treatment” and wrongful termination.

In September, Colin May’s appointment as head of the provincial human rights body was canceled by cabinet order following an open letter from the Muslim community regarding a book review he published as Islamophobic.

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May first joined the Alberta Human Rights Commission and Tribunals (AHRC) in 2019 as a commissioner. He was appointed as the Chairman of the Commission by a Cabinet Order in May 2022.

On Tuesday, he filed suit, alleging the province breached its contractual obligations and engaged in a “bad faith” dismissal.

May is seeking $1.12 million in damages for premature breach of her employment contract, public notice acknowledging her wrongful termination, and costs of the lawsuit. In addition, May believes she is entitled to an additional $1 million in moral and punitive damages.

“Secretary (Tyler) Shandro’s office wrongfully terminated Plaintiff (May) without notice,” the statement of claim states. “The minister’s office did not explain the reason to the plaintiff and to date, he has not been given any reason.”

May’s legal counsel, Kathryn Marshall, told CTV News Edmonton in an interview that she has a five-year fixed-term contract as chair of the commission, affording her due process and rights as an employee of the province.

“(People) assume he was an appointment to serve at the pleasure of the government, but he actually had a detailed employment contract,” said Marshall, who specializes in employment law, human rights and civil litigation at Toronto firm Levitt Sheikh LLP.

Marshall said May had agreed to the province’s requests to meet and hold consultations with Muslim stakeholders. In his view, May’s firing was “surprising” and “wrong”.

In a request obtained by CTV News Edmonton, May was notified of her termination by letter on Sept. 15 under a clause specifying resignations.

According to the claim, Shandro’s office requested his resignation three days earlier.

May says she is not resigning because she has done nothing wrong.

Marshall says May first learned of the province’s intention to request her resignation, and then of her final decision through media reports.

In the suit, May alleges a “toxic work environment” during her short tenure as AHRC chair and that she was interrupted from Shandro’s office.

“It was clear from his first day on the job that plaintiff was set up to fail,” the statement of claim states.

Marshall believes the book review was “spoken” by the Alberta NDP to smear his role.

“He’s not Islamophobic,” Marshall said. “Finally, book criticism has been misrepresented by various groups and individuals.”

“Due to the unconscionable, malicious and malicious acts and omissions taken by the defendant, May suffered significant emotional and physical distress,” the claim states.

According to the statement of claim, May’s termination canceled her opportunity to co-teach a course at the University of Calgary Cummings School of Medicine this fall.

The province has 20 days to respond as a defendant. Neither claim has been tested or proven in court.

Colleen May is suing the Alberta government for $2.1M, alleging wrongful termination

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Colleen May is suing the Alberta government for $2.1M, alleging wrongful termination

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Colleen May is suing the Alberta government for $2.1M, alleging wrongful termination

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