Ousted LHSC CEO suing hospital for wrongful dismissal

LHSC President and CEO Dr. Paul Woods. (File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

A $2.5 million lawsuit has been filed against the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) by its former CEO Dr. Paul Woods, who alleges he was terminated in “bad faith” after it came to light he had travelled abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement of claim, filed Wednesday in Ontario Superior Court, indicates Woods is seeking $1.4 million in damages equal to his base salary, performance base compensation, benefits, and pension that he would have received under his contract, which was slated to end on January 14, 2023. He is also asking for $1 million in general damages for the loss of his reputation and another $100,000 for an alleged breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Woods was notified on Sunday that he was being fired from his position at LHSC, two days after it was publicly revealed he had travelled to see his immediate family in the United States five times since March. Cross-border travel has been restricted for all non-essential purposes since March 21 to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

That meant Woods’ fiancée, a United States citizen, could not enter Canada. However, Woods, who is Canadian but holds permanent resident status in the United States, could make the trek.

“Dr. Woods did not take the decision to enter the United States lightly,” the statement of claim said.

The 13-page document goes on to state that Woods discussed his family situation and travel to the U.S. with the LHSC Board of Directors Chair Amy Walby and the hospital’s general counsel on June 16, 2020.

“I appreciate the heads up on your need to travel to the U.S. and the plan to self-isolate as required thereafter, and comfortable that it fits into existing policy… I am doubly comfortable that you can effectively fulfill your work responsibilities from home,” Walby allegedly responded through email, according to Woods’ statement of claim.

Woods is said to have discussed further travel plans with Walby on two more occasions.

In an August email, Woods voiced concerns about the “optics issues” of his working remotely from Michigan for one week every two months. He asked Walby “is this something I should bring to the Board?”

“I support what you need to do on this. I don’t think the Board needs to approve but we can give them a heads up,” Walby allegedly replied.

In a text regarding Woods’ planned cross border travel in October, Walby is said to have replied “you certainly deserve some time off!”

These exchanges contradict a statement issued by the LHSC on Monday which stated “while the board was aware of Dr. Woods’ personal circumstances, it had no advance notice of and did not approve his travel outside Canada.”

The lawsuit goes on to state that the LHSC’s statement issued on Monday was “inaccurate and defamatory” as it indicated Woods was not “forthright and candid with the board.”

“The Board knowingly and deliberately created this impression to attempt to spare itself from criticism, while inaccurately attempting to shift blame and responsibility to Dr. Woods,” the statement of claim said.

The allegations made in the statement of claim have not yet been tested in court.

Blackburn News has reached out the the LHSC for comment but as of Wednesday afternoon has received no response.