Orphaned Wildlife Society founder Beverly Day will receive nearly $140,000 in damages from the society, after a judge found its board of directors had wrongfully dismissed her back in October 2014.
Day, 68, was the defendant in a lawsuit which started back in January 2015, when the Orphaned Wildlife Society (OWL) sued Day for allegedly misappropriating funds and inappropriately dealing with two employees at the society.
The society was seeking reimbursement for the cost of Day’s rent, which had been paid by the society up to the end of her employment as she was required to live on-site at OWL’s facility on 80th Street.
Supreme Court Judge Paul Walker, who made the final decision on Oct. 9, said “there was never any basis” for the claim that Day had misappropriated funds, and went on to conclude that her employment “was wrongfully terminated, without cause, because OWL’s board of directors … rushed to judgment and assumed the worst possible construction of alleged events.”
For much of Day’s adult life, she had been involved in bird care and raptor rehabilitation. Before OWL was officially founded, she was treating injured owls, eagles and hawks from her home. Eventually, she founded the Orphaned Wildlife Society, and over the next 40 years worked to help injured raptors.
The judge’s decision describes Day as “the driving force and moral spirit of OWL” and someone who was well known to the public and the board for her “strong opinions, straightforward style of communication and personal interest in the well-being of its staff and volunteers.”
Originally, Day had sat on the society’s board, but she eventually switched roles to become the society’s executive director and chief operations officer. Although she was no longer a member of the board, she was still a member of the society.
In her position, Day received salary, vacation pay and medical benefits. She was responsible for hiring and firing employees, as well as much of the society’s daily operations. She also lived at OWL and her rent was paid for by the society, as their landlord required someone to be on-site at all times. (When Day was away, another person was paid to be an overnight caretaker.)
In OWL’s suit against Day, it claimed that she had always been required to pay for her housing and failed to tell the bookkeepers to deduct the monthly rent from her paycheck. (OWL leases its property from the Delta Community Living Society, and pays for the separate buildings with one lump sum.)
Based on the minutes from OWL’s board of directors, and testimony from both sides, Judge Walker, concluded this was not true.
Walker also found that Day was acting within her rights as executive director when she fired current raptor care manager Rob Hope in June 2014.
According to the information in the judge’s decision, Day had fired Hope after he had used a sex book, donated to the society for a fundraising event, to play a practical joke on another employee. Hope had taken the book, which contained explicit images, and opened it to a page which included a “position of the month” for the employee’s birth month.
Underage volunteers were present at the time, which Hope acknowledged to the board later, although he said he did not show them the book.
Day learned of the incident about a month later and, based on her investigation and Hope’s prior conduct warnings, fired him.
According to OWL, Day’s decision to fire Hope was one of the events that lead to her dismissal from the society, and became part of its defence when Day counter-sued for wrongful dismissal. The society claimed that Day had called Hope a pedophile (which Hope had allegedly told the board), and had failed to open the cabinet where the cheques were held to provide Hope with his severance. (OWL did not call Hope as a witness during the lawsuit.)
Walker found that the board “had made no effort to investigate the incident” and instead “jumped to the conclusion” that Day was in the wrong. Walker also concluded that although Day had not given the board access to the cheques — as she was opposed to Hope receiving severance — the way the board asked her to open the cabinet was “in a wholly unnecessary manner guaranteed to generate conflict.”
Hope was re-hired as the raptor care manager after Day had been dismissed from her position as executive director. Judge Walker found that the board had also told Day that if she came onto OWL’s premises, including to attend the AGM, the police would be called and she would be arrested for trespassing.
At the end of Walker’s decision, he wrote that comments made by board members Karen Wheatley (who the judge described as a “self-admitted driving force in OWL’s litigation”) and Bruce Hutchison indicated “they were unhappy in their belief that Ms. Day ran OWL and treated the board as essentially superfluous.”
He concluded by awarding Day two years lost salary at $41,242 a year, plus lost vacation pay for the same amount of time. She will also receive her rent of $750 a month for the two years she has been unemployed and OWL had not already paid for the housing. She will also receive compensation for internet and MSP premiums.
Finally, Day will receive $30,000 in aggravated damages for the emotional and physical distress of her dismal and OWL’s “meritless claim” against her.