The trial over a New Brunswick college instructor’s alleged wrongful dismissal focused Wednesday on how his behaviour at a seminar helped rationalize his firing.
Gareth Davies, academic chair at the Maritime College of Forest Technology, was under cross-examination in the Court of King’s Bench about the discussions he had with college director Tim Marshall about why Rod Cumberland deserved to be fired.
Cumberland was fired from the college in June 2019 and is now suing the institution, alleging his termination was because of his open views on the use of glyphosate, a herbicide used in the forest industry.
The college has argued in its defence that Cumberland was fired because he was intolerable to work with.
Davies was cross-examined about emails between him and Marshall in late January 2019, discussing the reasons why Cumberland was to be fired.
In a Jan. 30, 2019, email, a majority of the reasons had to do with Cumberland’s actions leading up to and during two seminars he attended on the use of glyphosate earlier that month.
Marshall, in the email, said it was believed that Cumberland pre-emptively discredited presenters at the seminars and encouraged students not to attend.
Marshall also accused Cumberland of “railroading” one of the presentations, and said that college staff were embarrassed by Cumberland’s questions to the presenters.
He also wrote in the email that following one seminar, a board member for the college contacted him, saying he was approached by two members of the New Brunswick Forest Technicians Association with concerns about Cumberland’s questions, as well.
“I don’t know the details of who was involved, but [Marshall] mentioned he was engaging the board about this,” Davies said.
The email also mentions that Cumberland was not approved to attend one seminar during working hours, but according to Davies, he’d actually been approved to take time off.
Other items in the January email included mention of Cumberland setting his classroom clock to the wrong time to serve a personal agenda, and his physical removal of a student’s hat.
Paul Champ, the lawyer for Cumberland, brought up another email sent just days earlier, where Davies directed staff that faculty weren’t allowed to bar students from entering class for being late, and said the school’s hat policy had been updated to allow them to be worn in class.
When asked by Champ, Davies testified he did send that email, and he’d received no complaints from Cumberland in the months between that email and when he was eventually fired.
Lack of punishment for other instructors
Davies said he spoke to Hughes about the comment, which he agreed was outrageous.
In another instance, court heard that instructor Jim Bowen made a comment that garnered a complaint by some who found it insensitive to transgender or gender non-binary people.
Davies testified that neither of the instructors was punished following those complaints, and Champ questioned him as to whether he thought they were not more serious compared to those levelled against Cumberland.
“I don’t know,” Davies said. “Without further investigation, it’s hard for me to judge the severity.
“Phil in particular, was adamant about the fact that he was entirely taken out of context. Without more information it was hard for me to judge. Obviously, [the student’s] interpretation of it, that’s awful.”
College director testifies about growing hostility
The day finished with direct questioning of Marshall, who took on the role of executive director in June 2017.
Marshall testified that as the months went on, he faced growing pushback and criticism from Cumberland over changes he was overseeing at the college, including around curriculum.
Marshall said Cumberland made statements about how the college was going “soft” and that it was teaching students yoga, referring to a new elective they were able to take.
Marshall said staff also communicated to him that there was a “blow-up confrontation” during a meeting involving Cumberland over his son not being considered for an award given out by the college.
Marshall testified that by fall 2018, he started thinking about firing Cumberland, given there seemed to be a “misalignment” between Cumberland’s values and the direction the college was heading in.
He said Cumberland even earlier expressed that misalignment in values and said he was seeking other employment.
Marshall also talked about the herbicide seminars held in January 2019, and how Cumberland’s behaviour at them influenced his decision to fire him.
Asked why he waited until June of that year to fire, him, Marshall said he didn’t want to interrupt the academic year for his students.
“Hiring faculty is not always easy job and if you have an immediate termination, to have someone qualified to step into classroom on Monday after a firing on Friday, I’ve seen it done most often with limited success,” he said.
Marshall is expected to continue testifying Thursday.