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Government settles with B.C. health ministry employee it fired by "regrettable mistake"

The B.C. government admitted today it made a “regrettable mistake” in firing a Health Ministry employee as part of a sweeping privacy-breach investigation and mass firing in 2012.
Ron Mattson has settled his wrongful dismissal suite with the B.C. government

The B.C. government admitted today it made a “regrettable mistake” in firing a Health Ministry employee as part of a sweeping privacy-breach investigation and mass firing in 2012.

Two years after publicly pronouncing his innocence at every turn, View Royal Coun. Ron Mattson has been cleared and is the third Health Ministry employee to settle his wrongful dismissal lawsuit out of court.

“The government advises that its decision to terminate Mr. Mattson was a regrettable mistake,” reads a statement from the Health Ministry this morning.

“In announcing the settlement, the government thanks Mr. Mattson for his long years of service as a loyal and dedicated public servant. The government regrets any hardship and possible loss of reputation which Mr. Mattson endured.”

Lawyer Chris Siver, who in July said the government had failed to show "one scintilla of evidence" that Mattson did anything wrong, said this week the terms of the settlement are confidential but that his client is relieved it’s over.

“I accept the government's statement of regret and its acknowledgement that my dismissal was a mistake,” said Mattson, in an email. “I am relieved my name has been cleared and my reputation restored.”

Mattson, the former manager of policy and special projects for the PharmaCare branch, was employed for 28 years and held senior positions in the Health Ministry.

Mattson was suing former health minister Margaret MacDiarmid for defamation. He was also suing the Health Ministry for wrongful dismissal without pay, breach of contract and defamation.

Mattson now plans to drop those lawsuits, his lawyer said.

The government had previously claimed in a counter-suit that it fired Mattson for cause and never defamed him. The ministry claimed Mattson talked to a third-party contractor about ways to get around the province's policies and procedures to access data.

“The government hopes the settlement removes any potential cloud over his reputation which otherwise might have existed,” reads the Health Ministry statement.

However, unlike rehired employees Bob Hart and Malcolm Maclure, Mattson will not return to work at the Health Ministry.

“I'll be 61 years old on August 28th and my plans for the future are to spend my time and energy taking care of my family, serving my community and enjoying my retirement,” Mattson said, in an email, today.

Instead, the Health Ministry said in an agreed statement that it wishes him the best in his future endeavours.

Mattson has been an elected official for the town of View Royal for 19 of the past 24 years. He plans to run for re-election in November.

“Mr. Mattson is grateful that his name has been cleared and appreciates the government’s expression of regret,” said Mattson, in an agreed statement by both sides. “Mr. Mattson says he is relieved he can now put this ordeal behind him and get on with his life and serving the good people of View Royal.”

In 2012, seven Health Ministry employees were fired and at least one contractor lost data access related to a sweeping probe into allegations of conflict of interest, inappropriate conduct and data mismanagement in its pharmaceutical services division.

In addition, sharing of drug data and contracts with the University of B.C. and the University of Victoria were suspended. The government also suspended the use of de-identified Health Ministry data by the UBC-based Therapeutics Initiative, an independent research group on pharmaceuticals that acts as a drug-safety watchdog for British Columbians. Most data access has been restored.

The health minister at the time said she was deeply concerned about the situation and went as far as to say she was giving the government's findings to the RCMP. The government always maintained no monetary gain resulted from the alleged breaches.

All seven fired employees claimed they were wrongfully dismissed. Four of them — Malcolm Maclure, Bob Hart, Rebecca Warburton and Mattson — launched wrongful dismissal suits.

Malcolm Maclure was rehired in mid-July as a consultant on research and evidence development. The government praised Maclure for his work in health data privacy research. In turn, Maclure dropped his civil suit for wrongful dismissal.

In March, Robert Neil Hart, the ministry's former director of data access, research and stewardship, was rehired "as a demonstration of the government's continuing confidence in him," according to an agreement of facts. He also dropped his lawsuit.

With Mattson settling out of court this week, there remain two civil suits as a result of the privacy breach investigation.

University of Victoria professor Rebecca Warburton is suing the B.C. government and MacDiarmid for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract. She shared a half-time co-director of research title within the Health Ministry with Maclure.

In its counter claim, the government says Warburton was fired for cause. She says she remains confident of being exonerated but not confident about when as the government is dragging its feet.

Contractor William Warburton also launched a civil suit. The labour and health economist lost his contracts with the government when it suspended the sharing of drug data and contracts with UBC and UVic.

William Warburton, husband of Rebecca Warburton, is suing the province and MacDiarmid for defamation, breach of contract and interference with contract, and alleges that the B.C. Liberal Party, as a recipient of “significant contributions from drug companies,” was trying to curtail research by revoking his access to Health Ministry data.

The government has denied the allegations.

The three remaining employees who were fired — senior researcher David Scott, senior economist Ramsay Hamdi, and UVic co-op student Roderick MacIsaac — launched grievances through the B.C. Government Employees Union but the union won't say how their grievances were resolved.

MacIsaac, 46, who was evaluating the province's smoking-cessation program, was let go three days before his co-op term ended. That effectively ended hope of attaining his doctorate. He committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, according to a coroner’s report, in January 2013, before his grievance was concluded.

After the last provincial election, MacDiarmid’s deputy minister Graham Whitmarsh was terminated with $250,000 severance. He is replaced by deputy minister Stephen Brown who was photographed shaking hands with Maclure, after that settlement last month.

B.C. Opposition health critic Judy Darcy has said the government should admit its investigation was flawed and settle the outstanding lawsuits "for the people whose reputations have been ruined and whose personal lives are in shambles."

The Health Ministry says the cost of the investigation to date is almost $3.4 million, including legal costs.

The government will not reveal the cost of the three out-of-court settlements.

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