$9.7M wrongful dismissal trial for fired Northlands parking cashiers underway

A wrongful dismissal and defamation trial between Northlands and a group of former employees has gotten off to a slow start due to delays, adjournments and repeated warnings by the judge.

Nineteen former parking services cashiers are suing Northlands for $9.7 million over their October 2015 firing.

Northlands fired 38 cashiers en masse after it alleged two audits found it was losing $1 million a year to cashier skimming. It announced the decision to thousands of employees and volunteers, and the then-president and CEO Tim Reid publicly accused the full group of theft.

The cashiers were not named individually, and Northlands’ defence lawyer David Risling says his client’s position is that there was no defamation or harm caused. 

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The trial began Monday, but was adjourned after only an hour. 

When it resumed Tuesday, the cashier group’s lawyer Glenda Pidde made a wide-ranging opening statement that included accusations that Northlands had destroyed evidence, and that the organization lied to its employees and the public about what happened.

“This is the worst abuse of power I have ever witnessed,” she said.

Pidde also accused Risling of trying to abuse and “take down” both her and her clients.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Tom Rothwell repeatedly cautioned Pidde about personal attacks on opposing counsel.

Her accusations against Risling continued during one of the day’s adjournments.

Waiting for the judge to enter the courtroom at the end of the lunch break, Pidde accused the Northlands lawyer of lying to her, and then apologized.

“Sorry about the temper tantrum, don’t tell the judge,” she said. 

During court, Pidde also spoke repeatedly about her own level of fatigue, calling herself “haggard.”

“I’m trying to stay awake,” she told court at one point. 

‘Hurt, shocked, mad’ witness says

One of the former cashiers, Lori Ann Wooldridge, was the first witness to give evidence.

Wooldrige told court that on Oct. 5, 2015, she and the other parking cashiers were called into a meeting and told that all of them either participated in or knew about the alleged stolen revenue – and then fired. 

“My jaw hit the floor,” Wooldridge said, adding that she hadn’t even been working over the time period the audit covered. 

“I was hurt, shocked, mad that I was swept up in this. Unbelievable,” she said.

Wooldridge said the experience has continued to cause significant stress for her and her family, and that her involvement in the case has prevented her from being able to advance at her current job because she wouldn’t pass required security checks.

Wooldrige was unable to finish testifying Tuesday afternoon, and so discussion between the lawyers and judge turned to an issue Pidde raised about entering exhibits as evidence.

At one point, Rothwell asked the lawyers to have a discussion about the exhibits themselves during a break, and told Pidde she has to get along with Risling and be respectful.

 “If the court says I have to, I will,” she said.

Rothwell also repeatedly told Pidde she needs to share her witness schedule for the trial with the defence lawyer so that he can plan for his own witnesses, but Pidde said she was unsure which of her clients would testify because they were frightened. 

She agreed to send it to Risling by 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

As he prepared to adjourn, Rothwell noted that court time must be used efficiently, and that the 14-day trial had gotten off to a slow start.

The trial is expected to continue Wednesday.

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