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Ornge settles lawsuit with ex-employee allegedly fired for whistleblowing

By December 11, 2012Media

Ontario’s scandal-plagued air ambulance service has settled a lawsuit with a former employee who alleged she was fired for being a whistleblower.

Lisa Kirbie sued Ornge only about six weeks ago, but a spokesman for the arm’s-length provincial agency says the case has now been resolved, though details of the settlement are confidential.

Ms. Kirbie, who was hired in March 2010 as the director of government and regulatory affairs, alleged in her lawsuit that former CEO Chris Mazza was volatile and sexist.

Ms. Kirbie said in her lawsuit that she co-operated with an auditor general’s probe of Ornge, gave provincial police information about Ornge as part of their criminal investigation and notified senior Ministry of Health officials about Mr. Mazza’s $1.4-million salary.

Ornge has come under close scrutiny at Ontario’s legislature, where a committee has heard explosive testimony about an alleged kickback scheme, exorbitant salaries and what one politician called “heavy-duty nepotism.”

In her lawsuit, Ms. Kirbie alleged she was fired in July without cause and was seeking the equivalent of 40 months of pay and benefits and damages of $100,000.

The lawsuit was settled before the allegations could be tried in court.

Kirbie’s lawyer, David Shiller, said his client is “satisfied with what she achieved.”

After the lawsuit was filed, Stephen Patterson, Ornge’s general counsel and acting CAO, said in a statement that Ornge didn’t dispute that Ms. Kirbie was owed “compensation for termination without reasonable notice,” but that Ornge didn’t agree with the amount Ms. Kirbie was claiming.

When asked last month about the lawsuit, Mr. Mazza’s lawyer offered a statement from Kelly Long, Mr. Mazza’s girlfriend and former junior executive at Ornge. The allegations are “without merit and entirely false,” she wrote.

Ms. Kirbie said she questioned dealings with Italian firm AgustaWestland, which sold 12 helicopters to Ornge. Ornge Global, a for-profit subsidiary controlled by Mr. Mazza, also signed a marketing services agreement with AgustaWestland.

Ms. Kirbie said she came to believe that the government agency used public money to pay millions extra for the helicopters then drew up a “bogus” contract to kick back funds to Ornge’s for-profit arm.

Agusta executive Louis Bartolotta has denied any wrongdoing.

Ontario’s auditor general has criticized the governing Liberals for failing to oversee Ornge, despite giving it $730-million over five years and allowing it to borrow another $300-million.

Ornge is currently under a criminal probe for financial irregularities.