Paul Woods is seeking an extra $1-million in punitive damages in a lawsuit against the London Health Sciences Centre, on top of the $2.5-million in his initial claim from January.
Woods was removed as London Health Sciences Centre’s president and CEO in early January, just days after LHSC’s board of directors confirmed that he had travelled to the United States on five occasions since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, most recently from Dec. 19 to 25, 2020.
While initially stating on Jan. 8 that Woods would stay on to “maintain stability,” the board issued a statement on Jan. 11, stating that it had “become clear that this situation has affected the confidence of staff, physicians and the community in Dr. Woods’ leadership.”
Two days later, Woods launched a $2.5-million lawsuit seeking $1.4 million for “the bad faith termination” in the amount equal to his base salary, performance-based compensation, benefits, and pension for the period from Jan. 10, 2021 to Jan. 14, 2023 as well as $1 million in damages for loss of reputation, $100,000 for breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code, and coverage of all legal expenses.
LHSC issued a statement of defence the following week, claiming that, “to the extent that Dr. Woods’ reputation has been harmed, it is a result of his own poor judgment and hypocrisy.”
“The reality is that Dr. Woods’ situation is no different from those of others who engaged in leisure travel during the pandemic. While his travel to Michigan could be explained in terms of his personal circumstances, his travel to Florida was a holiday,” LHSC said.
The statement of defence added that, in response to human rights code claims, that Woods was not terminated “because his family circumstances required him to work from home” but because “he had lost the confidence of the staff and physicians and the community it serves in light of his own hypocrisy.”
In an amended statement of claim and a reply to LHSC’s statement of defence filed Friday, Feb .19, Woods “admits none of the allegations contained in any of the paragraphs of the statement of defence.”
The claim also requests an additional $1 million, for a total of $3.5 million.
Woods’ lawyers argue that their client did not lose the moral authority to lead the hospital, as LHSC had claimed, and that Woods had received repeated assurances from the board chair and from other members of the executive leadership team that his “travel to reunite with his immediate family was acceptable.”
Woods’ lawyers argue that LHSC broke its commitments and terminated Woods “for doing exactly what he was assured he was allowed to do, and then made false public statements about those commitments.”
The statement of defence, however, alleged that senior hospital executives had raised concerns about Woods’ travel as early as March 23.
According to LHSC, executive VPs had trouble reaching Woods on the weekend of March 21 and 22 and on the Monday afterwards they learned he had been in Michigan.
The statement says chief operating officer Neil Johnson and chief people officer Susan Nickle expressed concern about Woods’ travel “to his personal health, to his personal reputation, and to the organization.”
LHSC alleges Woods “grew angry” and said his travel did not concern them.
Woods’ Feb. 19 reply states that when he travelled to Michigan in March 2020 it was for an urgent family matter and he was unable to notify all five executive VPs in advance, though it says he did notify two of them as well as the board chair.
When he returned, Woods reportedly learned that the three other executive VPs had suffered “hurt feelings.” He apologized, and pledged to be fully transparent moving forward, the reply adds.
After that, the reply states, Woods “did not hear a single concern raised from any Executive Vice-President.”
The reply also references an internal email Woods sent to LHSC staff in November, reported on in the media, in which he urged that “as health-care workers we must set ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to living and modeling public health guidelines both inside and outside of our workplace.”
LHSC’s statement of defence alleges that staff viewed it as “an unhelpful and heavy-handed attack on front-line health care workers who had provided extraordinary service and made significant personal sacrifices.”
“As a result,” the statement of defence claims, “there was a pronounced negative reaction among hospital staff, physicians, and stakeholders” when his travel history was made public.
In the Feb. 19 reply, Woods’ lawyers argue that “there was nothing inconsistent between the requests the Plaintiff made of hospital staff in November 2020, and the approach he took in his personal family life.”
It states that hospitals are high-risk environments for the spread of COVID-19 and, as a result, it was Woods’ “professional and moral duty” to insist that hospital staff follow COVID-19-related health and safety protocols.
The reply adds that Woods drove when crossing the border, followed physical distancing protocols while in the United States, always quarantined for two weeks or longer upon his return to Canada, and that “hospital staff and patients were never placed at risk” due to his travel.
In an email to Global News on Wednesday, LHSC’s legal representation says “nothing in Dr. Woods’ amended statement of claim has changed LHSC’s position in this matter, which is spelled out in LHSC’s statement of defence, dated January 21, 2021.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
— With files from Global News’ Sawyer Bogdan.