Cumberland civil suit focuses on behaviour at herbicide seminars

Rod Cumberland is suing the Maritime College of Forest Technology for his alleged wrongful dismissal in June 2019. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Rod Cumberland is suing the Maritime College of Forest Technology for his alleged wrongful dismissal in June 2019. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

Former instructor Rod Cumberland's behaviour at two seminars on herbicides was part of the focus Thursday as a court continued to hear his wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the Maritime College of Forest Technology.

The school's director, Tim Marshall, was questioned about how Cumberland's actions before and during the seminars held in January 2019 weighed on the decision to fire him five months later.

The trial had already heard that a group called Forest Info hosted two seminars in Fredericton, where students were invited to listen to scientists present their research on topics that the use of the herbicide glyphosate.

Marshall said that in the following days, Peter Fullarton, the director of the Atlantic Forestry Centre, called him to talk about Cumberland's participation at one of the seminars.

"He expressed concerns about how two federal scientists were disrespected in the sessions," Marshall said.

Jason Limongelli, J.D. Irving Ltd.'s vice-president of woodlands, also emailed Fullarton to complain about Cumberland's actions at the seminar, according to earlier testimony.

Limongelli wrote in the email that college instructors "should not be undermining federal scientists."

Email to students cited in firing

Marshall testified Fullarton took issue with an email Cumberland sent to college staff and students prior to one of the seminars, in which he raised questions about whether they would offer students a balanced perspective on the subject of glyphoste spraying.

That email, as well as Cumberland's actions at the seminars, were included as one of the reasons listed in his termination letter Marshall handed him in June 2019.

That letter accused Cumberland of undermining the content of the seminars, and for "actively discouraging students from attending the seminar, despite the fact that the seminar was vetted and approved by the [Maritime College of Forest Technology]."

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

In questioning Marshall on Thursday, Paul Champ, Cumberland's lawyer, raised another email by his client that encouraged a student to attend one of the seminars, but to go with his "critical thinking hat on."

Under further questioning from Champ, Marshall testified he did not hear any specific instances of Cumberland telling students not to attend the seminar.

Cumberland is now suing the college for wrongful dismissal, alleging his 2019 firing from the college was motivated by his vocal criticism of the use of glyphosate by the forestry industry.

The college has responded by arguing Cumberland's termination had nothing to do with his views on glyphosate, but was due to his being intolerable to work with.

Dissecting other reasons for dismissal

Cumberland's termination letter also alleged he locked students out of class if they showed up late, intentionally adjusted the classroom clock to give the illusion that students were arriving late to class, and physically removed hats from the heads of students.

The trial earlier heard from Gareth Davies, academic chair at the college, who said he looked into those allegations against Cumberland.

Davies also testified that he and Cumberland had a toxic work relationship, particularly after he was promoted over Cumberland for the new role of academic chair in fall 2018.

Asked by Champ whether he ever personally investigated the allegations against Cumberland, Marshall said he didn't. Nor did he speak to Cumberland about them prior to his firing, Marshall said.

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

Marshall also testified that he heard no complaints from students about Cumberland after Jan. 28, 2019.

That was the date that Davies emailed all staff at the college to inform them the college was ending rules, which previously allowed instructors to bar students from their class for being late.

Misaligned values

Marshall earlier testified how he took on the role of college director in summer 2017.

He said that as the months went on, he faced growing pushback and criticism from Cumberland over curriculum and other changes he was overseeing at the college.

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 that in 2018, Cumberland personally told him the views of the college no longer aligned with his, and that he was seeking alternative employment.

By fall 2018, Marshall said, he was thinking about an "exit strategy" for Cumberland, and started taking note of complaints and other reasons why he should be fired.

Both parties in the trial have finished calling witnesses.

New Brunswick Court of King's Bench Chief Justice Tracey DeWare is expected to hear closing arguments Friday.