Former UTSU Executive Director Sandra Hudson sought additional $100,000 in damages during lawsuit

Hudson filed claim against UTSU, President Mathias Memmel during lawsuit, alleging breach of confidentiality

Former UTSU Executive Director Sandra Hudson sought additional $100,000 in damages during lawsuit

Former University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Executive Director Sandra Hudson filed a lawsuit claiming $100,000 in damages against the union and its President Mathias Memmel while legal proceedings for a previous lawsuit filed against her were still taking place. Hudson alleged that the UTSU and Memmel breached a mediation agreement after Memmel disclosed information about the then-ongoing lawsuit at an April 29, 2017 Board of Directors meeting.

The UTSU’s lawsuit against Hudson, which was settled in October 2017, alleged civil fraud.

Hudson’s statement of claim, filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on May 31, 2017, states that the two parties attended a mandatory mediation on October 6, 2016, after which the UTSU, Hudson, and other attendees signed a mediation agreement. Memmel, at the time serving as UTSU Vice-President Internal and Services, signed the Mediation Agreement on his own behalf.

This agreement contained a “confidentiality provision,” which states, “All written and oral communications made in the course of mediation will be treated as confidential and without prejudice.” All those who signed the mediation agreement were bound by the confidentiality provision, including Memmel.

At an April 29, 2017 Board of Directors meeting, a motion was passed to discuss whether or not to drop the union’s lawsuit against Hudson. Members of the Black Liberation Collective were present in the room to protest the lawsuit. When Memmel’s efforts to move the meeting in camera were met with protests, Memmel publicly went into detail about the lawsuit after consulting with the UTSU’s legal counsel, Andrew Monkhouse.

Hudson’s statement of claim alleges that Memmel breached the confidentiality provision in the mediation agreement when speaking in support of continuing the lawsuit. “In so doing, Memmel referred to the [UTSU’s allegations], and then proceeded to make selective disclosure of confidential discussions and offers allegedly made at the mediation… notwithstanding that members of the public were present and that the Meeting was being video recorded.”

The statement of claim further alleges that the information disclosed by Memmel was “highly prejudicial” to Hudson, and that Memmel tried to make it appear as though Hudson had committed the misconduct for which she was being sued.

“The malicious, high-handed, arrogant and outrageous conduct of the Memmel [sic] and UTSU warrants an award of punitive damages to ensure that they are appropriately deterred from such conduct in the future,” continues Hudson’s statement of claim.

The UTSU and Memmel, as joint defendants, filed a statement of defence in which Memmel denied having disclosed confidential discussions. The statement of defence states that the information disclosed at the meeting was in reference to non-confidential negotiations and therefore not protected by the mediation agreement.

The statement of defence further claims that Memmel’s answers to questions “were a direct result of a major protest, which was organized and encouraged by Ms. Hudson for the purpose of putting pressure on the UTSU executive regarding her other lawsuit.” The statement calls Hudson’s alleged encouragement of others to ask questions and subsequent decision to sue based on the answers to questions “inappropriate.”

“It’s always been our position that all of Hudson’s various claims were and are baseless, and that was clear from the start,” said UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh. “They didn’t factor into our decision to settle, and they’ve all been resolved to our satisfaction.” Singh added that Memmel recused himself from negotiations and did not personally contribute to the union’s decision to settle or the terms around the settlement.

The Varsity has reached out to Hudson for comment.

A quarter-million-dollar thought experiment

The secrecy surrounding the UTSU’s settlement with Sandra Hudson makes it difficult to take an informed stance on the lawsuit’s conclusion

A quarter-million-dollar thought experiment

On October 12, the lawsuit brought against former University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Executive Director Sandra Hudson ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.

The suit was filed in September 2015 after the UTSU’s Board of Directors alleged Hudson had committed civil fraud in receiving $277,726.40 in a compensation package upon her contract’s termination. For two years, the suit dominated student politics, but it was resolved in a confidential settlement 11 days before its trial was set to begin.

The UTSU’s official statement reads that Hudson has agreed to repay “a portion of the overtime payments” that were paid out to her. While this amount may be disclosed at some point as an ‘extraordinary payment’ in the UTSU’s audited 2017–2018 financial statements, little information has been provided about the terms of the settlement or how it was reached.

As far as students are concerned, this means very little has been resolved. Without speculating or jumping to conclusions, it’s almost impossible to take a stance on the lawsuit’s conclusion in light of the dearth of information available. The fact that students have not been permitted access to the facts means that engaging in a meaningful and informed debate about the settlement is virtually impossible — a serious issue in light of the accountability concerns involved.

The secrecy of the proceedings has led to an extremely unsatisfactory result: students have been denied the information required to take a stand on the results of what is and has been for several years a clearly high-stakes case.

In a statement to The Varsity, UTSU President Mathias Memmel wrote, “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.” Memmel’s request will be difficult for students to grant, especially when considering that this lawsuit was the result of an alleged abuse of power by former executives.

We do know that the decision to settle was not unanimous. The Varsity recently broke a story about the four members of the UTSU Board of Directors who voted against the settlement. Reasons cited for this divergence included skepticism about the quality of the deal and the importance of seeing the case through to trial. It is also telling that only 22 of 51 board members — a board formed after an 11.8 per cent voter turnout in last year’s UTSU elections — were present for the vote.

The anger and frustration that has been targeted at the UTSU in the wake of its decision is understandable. Despite the lawsuit now having reached its conclusion, no confirmation of liability has been made.

We do not doubt that a number of the UTSU’s constituents believe Hudson is guilty. However, legally speaking, this will likely never be proven. Many people continue to hold steadfast faith in the adversarial nature of the trial process and its potential to bring out the truth in even the thorniest of proceedings. Accordingly, many students have criticized the UTSU’s decision to opt for a resolution out of court, and they have interpreted its decision as a sign of weakness, or even betrayal.

The truth is that settlements in this province are hardly uncommon: a substantial portion of lawsuits never make it to trial. Meanwhile, the legal system is overloaded with cases, and the courts are crumbling under their weight. The recent scramble to address this issue in the criminal law context following pressures from the Supreme Court in the R. v. Jordan decision, in turn, have sapped up the resources available for civil cases. Trials often take months or even years to resolve, and legal fees can reach exorbitant levels as more time elapses.

It is therefore possible that the UTSU made the most prudent decision in settling the case out of court, but it is impossible to make this judgment with any kind of certainty. From the beginning, a shield of confidentiality has — understandably — prevented access to the evidence that was to be presented at trial, making it difficult to speculate as to the UTSU’s odds of winning the case in court. And without information about the terms of the settlement, we cannot make the call as to whether they reached a comparatively good deal.

The UTSU has stated that the money it will receive from the settlement will be accounted for in next year’s financial statements. This does not offer us much comfort; it is still unclear how this will be done and whether it will be explicitly delineated as settlement money in the UTSU’s records.

It is also curious that despite accusations made against the UTSU in the past, the lawsuit being motivated by anti-Black racism is now effectively a footnote in the its resolution. As part of the settlement, Hudson has now acknowledged that racism was not a motivation for the lawsuit. This flies in the face of what community groups such as the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) have been protesting since early in the proceedings. Members of the BLC have called for boycotts; the organization’s demand for a second legal opinion by a lawyer who identifies as Black had been voted down by the UTSU Board of Directors.

We can only wonder what evidence was presented that allowed the very serious accusations of racism to be relegated to the cutting room floor, or what the BLC thinks about the lawsuit’s conclusion, as the organization has not responded to The Varsity’s requests for comment since the announcement about the settlement was made.

The need for confidentiality in legal proceedings is understandable, but it has also rendered this case full of bitter compromises and closeted skeletons. The real tragedy here is that students have been shut out of a conversation in which their interests were undoubtedly at stake. Though many have taken to social media to express their distaste for the case’s conclusion, pulling together a thorough case against the UTSU’s decision will be very difficult without the facts.

Hopefully the backlash the UTSU has received will spark some generosity in disclosure — that is, if there is anything else at all they are legally permitted to tell us. In the meantime, it is deeply frustrating that all we can do is speculate.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

 

Facts first, suspicions second

Re: “UTSU votes against seeking second legal opinion on Hudson lawsuit”

Facts first, suspicions second

The UTSU has decided against seeking a second legal opinion on the lawsuit involving former executive Sandy Hudson. The vote was prompted by the Black Liberation Collective (BLC), who demanded that the UTSU seek legal advice on the proceedings from a lawyer who identifies as Black.

Outcries against alleged racism toward Hudson have sparked much debate over her case. Some, like the BLC, perceive the lawsuit to be race-motivated, and by extension, anti-Black. Contrary to this perception, however, the UTSU made the right decision in light of the facts.

There have been many allegations of racism against Hudson, but there is no actual evidence to support them. No proof of discrimination against Hudson has been brought forward — neither within the lawsuit itself nor in general on the part of the UTSU.

Lacking this proof, there is no basis for seeking another legal opinion. Putting funding toward rectifying unsubstantiated allegations is not an effective use of student resources, especially given the extremely high costs associated with legal help. Additionally, involving a second lawyer only brings unneeded complication to the lawsuit. Although some might argue that hiring a Black lawyer would counteract the UTSU’s alleged racial bias, if that bias has not been shown to exist, there is nothing to counteract.

This already complicated lawsuit will not benefit from additional layers of analysis based on unfounded suspicion. The focus should be on the facts of the case itself; only then can matters be effectively resolved.

Andrea Tambunan is a first-year student at University College studying Life Sciences.

The Breakdown: The UTSU’s lawsuit against former Executive Director Sandy Hudson

The history, the controversy, and what to expect

The Breakdown: The UTSU’s lawsuit against former Executive Director Sandy Hudson

In September 2015, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) began a lawsuit against its former President Yolen Bollo-Kamara, former Vice-President, Internal and Services Cameron Wathey, and former Executive Director Sandra Hudson. Since then, the story has taken a number of twists and turns.

The Legal History

The original statement of claim provided by the UTSU alleges that Bollo-Kamara and Wathey had “breached their fiduciary duty” by authorizing 2,589.5 hours of overtime pay for Hudson, that the three had “conspired to commit civil fraud,” and that their actions “constituted civil fraud” as the authorization of Hudson’s overtime pay entitled her to $247,726.40 as part of her severance package, despite the fact that Hudson had never claimed any overtime hours in the time she worked there. The claim also asks for $200,000 from the defendants for “punitive damages.”

Hudson’s position as Executive Director of the UTSU was terminated in April 2015, around the time Bollo-Kamara and Wathey’s terms as UTSU executives were coming to a close. The statement of claim alleged that Hudson was unhappy with the newly-elected Executive Committee and that Bollo-Kamara and Wathey agreed to dismiss Hudson. Wathey ran for President with the Change U of T slate and was defeated by Brighter U of T.

Hudson’s statement of defence, filed in November 2015, states that she was “subject to inappropriate conduct and unwelcome comments from UTSU directors. Some of the comments were in relation to Hudson’s perceived sexual orientation, gender, and race.”

Hudson also alleged that members of Brighter UofT conspired “to treat Hudson harshly” in order to “humiliate her,” while planning to terminate her employment that upcoming September. These claims have been refuted by members of the UTSU, including former President Ben Coleman.

Bollo-Kamara and Wathey filed their notices to defend in October 2015, and the UTSU was notified in November 2015 that Hudson intended to counter-sue the union for $300,000 in damages.

Hudson claimed that she had frequently worked overtime hours without filing those overtime hours. Additionally, she stated that the new executive would create a hostile work environment for her, and that it had violated the non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses of the termination. The UTSU denied this claim.

The UTSU settled its claim out of court with Bollo-Kamara in January 2016 and later did the same with Wathey. Both individuals signed affidavits stating that Hudson told them she had received advice from the UTSU’s legal representation at the time, DLA Piper, regarding her termination agreement.

A joint statement by Bollo-Kamara and the UTSU said that Hudson was able to convince Bollo-Kamara to sign her overtime cheques as a result of their close relationship. In his affidavit, Wathey said he relied on his understanding that the termination agreement was approved by the UTSU’s legal counsel and Hudson’s legal counsel. Both affidavits stated that Bollo-Kamara and Wathey did not financially benefit from the agreement.

On January 3, 2017, the UTSU amended its statement of claim against Hudson, the only remaining defendant from the original civil suit. The amendment alleged that Hudson operated the e-mail account operationsutsu@gmail.com, by which she forwarded all e-mails from UTSU accounts like executivedirector@utsu.ca. This meant that Hudson would have had access to confidential UTSU e-mails, which the amended statement describes as “a breach of her contract and the minutes of settlement she is seeking to uphold.”

The amended statement of claim also states that this information is sufficient to support Hudson’s termination “without contractual or statutory notice or severance payment,” meaning the UTSU would not have to pay the severance it allegedly owed Hudson.

The controversy

In October 2016, the U of T chapter of the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) staged a protest at the UTSU offices, claiming that Hudson is entitled to a severance payment and that the UTSU is racist for continuing the lawsuit. The BLC posted banners across the entrance to the UTSU building and entered the building to read a 3000-word statement outlining their claims that the UTSU is anti-Black.

The past few months have seen many UTSU board meetings disrupted by protests, with members of the BLC disrupting meetings in order to chant and share sentiments about Hudson.

A motion passed at the April 29, 2017 UTSU Board of Directors meeting that required the UTSU to seek a second legal opinion on their lawsuit. The motion stipulated that the second opinion must be sought from a lawyer who will “identify as Black, practice employment law, and have a background in equity work,” and that the BLC must be engaged in the selection process.

At the July 20, 2017 Board of Directors meeting, though, a motion to rescind the prior motion requiring the UTSU to seek a second legal opinion was proposed. This resulted in further protests from the BLC.

The UTSU and Hudson are heading to court on October 23 for a summary trial.