City’s facilities manager fired after public health act breaches: lawsuit

Victor Pankratz is suing the City of Abbotsford for wrongful dismissal after his contract was terminated in April.

Abbotsford City Hall

Abbotsford City Hall

The City of Abbotsford fired facilities manager Victor Pankratz earlier this year for insubordination and repeatedly failing to get approval from the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) for various projects, including at least two at the Matsqui Recreation Centre (MRC), according to court filings.

Now Pankratz, who had worked with the City of Abbotsford for nearly 11 years when he was fired in April, is suing, alleging he was wrongfully dismissed.

Pankratz had been promoted three times and by 2013 was responsible for overseeing and managing the operations of the city’s recreation centres and various facilities, including city hall and various police buildings, fire halls and libraries. He made $121,523 last year.

In a response to Pankratz’s wrongful dismissal suit, the city says Pankratz was fired because he twice failed to get the necessary approvals from FHA regarding projects at the MRC, as required by the Public Health Act.

The first incident cited in the city’s filing involves a UV disinfection project last October that altered water quality at the MRC. Pankratz was subsequently told to ensure he complied with all Public Health Act requirements. But in March of 2016, the city alleges he again failed to contact FHA, this time about a heating and ventilation system change.

The city alleges the incidents were “the culmination of a pattern of previous inappropriate conduct, where the plaintiff had failed to obtain approvals from the FHA regarding various facility-related capital/operating projects, and such failure had previously been brought to the plaintiff’s attention by various employees of the defendant.”

The city alleges Pankratz had known “for years” that such approval was needed to make changes to the facilities.

The incidents, the city alleges, breached the Public Health Act, “fundamentally breached the trust and confidence required of a person in his senior and responsible position,” and “constituted gross insubordination.” Together, the city alleges, they provided just cause to fire Pankratz.

In his court filing, though, Pankratz denies the city had just cause, and that “dismissal was disproportionate to any misconduct for which the plaintiff is culpable.”

Pankratz’s filing claims that “throughout his employment … the plaintiff faithfully and diligently performed his duties on behalf of the defendant, and proved to be a valuable and reliable employee.”

Pankratz alleges he was entitled to “reasonable notice of termination or pay in lieu thereof,” and is seeking damages for breach of contract, punitive damages, interest and court costs.

“The [city’s] breach of its duty of good faith and fair dealing in the manner of dismissal is an actionable wrong, unto itself, and the [city’s] actions were so harsh, vindictive, reprehensible and malicious that they are deserving of punishment by this court,” Pankratz alleges.

The filing says the city “intentionally or recklessly made unfounded and serious allegations concerning the plaintiff’s incompetence and trustworthiness, which have harmed the plaintiff’s personal and professional reputation.”

The city denies acting out of malice or engaging in “flagrant or extreme” conduct.

None of the allegations by either side has been proved in court.

The City of Abbotsford does not comment on court cases, but a spokesperson said in an email that the city “has not had any issues with Fraser Health related to water quality at the Matsqui Recreation Centre.”

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