Former Executive Director of the UTSU Sandra Hudson settled out-of-court with the UTSU on October 12, putting an end to the drawn-out lawsuit between the UTSU and three former staff and executives.
“Ms. Hudson has voluntarily agreed to repay a portion of the overtime payments which were approved by members of a prior executive committee,” reads an October 12 press release from the UTSU. The union acknowledges in the release that “allegations of fraud and theft against Ms. Hudson were not proven.” The amount that Hudson agreed to repay was not disclosed.
Former Engineering Director Andrew Sweeny, who was present at a meeting to approve the settlement, has criticized the settlement, telling The Varsity that “it was a poor deal.”
“I don’t think we pushed hard enough. I think we could have pushed for a better settlement,” Sweeny said. “Or at worst, we still would have done better in court.”
Hudson, according to the UTSU’s release, acknowledges that the UTSU believes it had a reasonable basis to start a lawsuit. Moreover, the statement says that “all parties believe that the lawsuit was not racially motivated” and “regret the acrimonious nature of these proceedings and inflammatory public comments made in and about them.”
The UTSU launched its lawsuit against Hudson, former UTSU President Yolen Bollo-Kamara, and former UTSU Vice-President Internal and Services Cameron Wathey in September 2015, alleging civil fraud. Bollo-Kamara settled with the union in January 2016, with Wathey settling in May that year.
The UTSU sought $277,726.40 from Hudson — given to her in a compensation package when her contract with the union was terminated — in addition to $200,000 in punitive damages. The $277,726.40 compensation package represented approximately 10 per cent of the union’s operating budget at the time.
The UTSU’s case hinged on the allegation that Hudson’s dismissal was without legal grounds and was orchestrated by Hudson, Bollo-Kamara, and Wathey. The details of Bollo-Kamara and Wathey’s settlements remain confidential. In the wake of Wathey’s settlement, then-UTSU President Ben Coleman said that “the testimony received from Wathey… helps our case” against Hudson.
The UTSU had alleged that Bollo-Kamara and Wathey “breached their fiduciary duty” by signing off on 2,589.5 hours of overtime for Hudson, which was included in the severance package when her contract was terminated. Of those 2,589.5 overtime hours, 1,974.5 were logged in a single entry on April 1, 2015.
Hudson countersued the UTSU for $300,000 in November 2015. In addition to denying the union’s allegations, Hudson’s counterclaim alleged that she was “subject to inappropriate conduct and unwelcome comments from UTSU directors. Some of the comments were in relation to [her] perceived sexual orientation, gender and race.”
UTSU President Mathias Memmel released a statement to The Varsity following the press release. “We’re very pleased–this is an objectively positive resolution for the UTSU. 95% of civil cases end in confidential settlements, so this was always the most likely outcome. Scepticism is justified, but I ask anyone who’s sceptical to trust that this board and these executives would only do what’s best for students, and would only have accepted the best possible offer.”
Emergency meeting to approve the settlement
The UTSU’s press release reveals that its Board of Directors approved the settlement in an emergency meeting on October 10.
A confidential recommendation, which was the only initial item on the October 10 agenda, garnered 17 votes in favour, four opposed, and one abstention.
“While the vote wasn’t unanimous, I have no doubt that every director did what they thought was best for the UTSU,” Memmel wrote, “and acted as their conscience required–I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Notably, Vice-President External Anne Boucher voted against the confidential recommendation. UC Director Aidan Swirsky and Engineering Directors Chris Dryden and Andrew Sweeny also voted against the recommendation. “I voted the way I did because I ultimately felt it was in the best interest of the UTSU and our members,” Boucher told The Varsity. “I do want to say that I genuinely believe people in the room had those same intentions. This was not an easy vote for anyone.”
The meeting concluded with the acceptance of the resignation of Sweeny. “Sweeny states that, when he ran for election, his goals were to see through the reductions in service levels and the lawsuit against Ms. Hudson,” read the minutes of the emergency meeting. “Given that both have concluded, he is submitting his resignation.” According to Sweeny, the settlement was “so dissapointing” that he could not continue to support the UTSU as an organization. “Resigning was the best way to express that sentiment.” Sweeny also notes that, in the light of the debate surrounding the lawsuit in the 2017 UTSU elections, he “[feels] like this settlement failed those who supported Demand Better based on this issue.”
Only 22 of the 51 members of the Board of Directors were present at the meeting.
Memmel did not directly acknowledge that the October 10 emergency meeting’s recommendation was about the Hudson lawsuit.
Background on the two-year drama
The Hudson lawsuit has been a salient fixture of campus life since it began. Hudson’s claim that she was subject to inappropriate conduct in relation to her race has been a point of particular concern.
Members of the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) occupied the UTSU’s office in October 2016, calling for a boycott of the union and issuing three demands: that the Hudson lawsuit be dropped, that funding for Black student groups be increased, and that the union host a town hall for Black UTSU members to address what they called “systemic anti-Black racism” within the organization. The protest was accompanied by vandalism of the union building.
The BLC and its supporters disrupted the April and July UTSU Board of Directors meetings, calling for a second legal opinion on the Hudson lawsuit from a lawyer who identifies as Black in April and protesting when the motion to do so was rescinded in July. Former UTM Director, Hashim Yussuf, called the lawsuit against Hudson “nothing but anti-Blackness.” BLC member Yusra Khogali accused the UTSU of the “character assassination” of Hudson.
All money received by the UTSU will be accounted for in the audited financial statements for 2017-2018; this includes extraordinary payments, such as a potential payout from Hudson.
The Varsity has reached out to Sandra Hudson and her legal counsel, and the BLC for comment.