A former senior employee of the Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) is owed $50,000 after his reputation was ruined by a co-worker in 2015 to the point he could no longer find work within the NWT.
“By no fault of his own, [Patrick] Tomlinson lost the trust of his employer, other organizations and community members,” wrote Supreme Court justice Karan Shaner in her ruling. “The fall-out was widespread, rapid and for Mr. Tomlinson, profound”
Tomlinson’s lawyer, Glen Rutland, declined to comment and Tomlinson did not respond to requests for interview by press time.
As first reported on deadline last week in News/North (“Doctored image costs woman $50,000 in defamation suit,” Oct. 2), central to the events was a cartoon that had been posted in Tomlinson’s office, where he worked as director of intergovernmental relations and land claim implementation, which displayed a Smurf lying on the ground with a detective standing above saying, “From his bluish color I would say he’s been dead for either five minutes or six months.”
The cartoon, according to Tomlinson, referenced a private joke between him and his mother which referenced a Halloween costume he’d worn as a child.
According to the ruling of Supreme Court Justice Karan Shaner, the evidence presented in the claim supports that in early February, 2015, Elizabeth Gordon — then a subordinate of Tomlinson’s — entered his office and staged a picture of the late Robert Alexie next to the cartoon. She then took a picture of these together.
Alexie had died the year before, and had been president of the GTC at the time. He was a beloved leader and a celebrated novelist.
Gordon then spread this picture around the community and to the heads of various Gwich’in agencies, saying Tomlinson had posted this disrespectful array in his office.
“Within three months of the publication of the first email and the image,” wrote Shaner,” … he was terminated from his position and he has been unable to find work since.”
Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan, grand chief of the GTC, told News/North she was not chief at the time of the events and did not wish to comment on any matters relating to the case.
According to Shaner’s memorandum of judgment, Tomlinson said Alexie was a close personal friend and a mentor, and that he didn’t ever position the cartoon with a photograph, as was shown in the picture circulated by Gordon.
In an affidavit filed by Gordon, she claimed she did not stage the picture and denied entering Tomlinson’s office at all, despite e-mail evidence in which she admitted she entered his office to at least take a photo of what she claimed was Tomlinson’s offensive arrangement.
Gordon’s campaign began with an email to a GTC employee in another community, who then sent it to the president, vice-president and chief operating officer of the GTC.
For entering Tomlinson’s office without permission when she took this picture, Gordon was suspended and then fired on Feb. 6, 2015.
After this, Tomlinson was informed that Gordon was circulating physical copies of the image as well as by e-mail around the territory and to people such as the chief executive officer of the Gwich’in Development Corp. and the president of the Designated Gwich’in Organization
A group chat on Facebook was created around Tomlinson and the photograph.
The image and allegations became so widespread and was met with such anger that Tomlinson was asked by senior leadership at the GTC to prepare a statement that was eventually posted on Facebook, assuring people that no one in the board on senior management had anything to do with the photograph.
Tomlinson was fired on May 19. Justice Shaner wrote that she “has no doubt” Gordon’s actions led to Tomlinson’s dismissal and his inability to find work in the territory since.
Gordon represented herself and denied culpability. Shaner wrote that she found these statements to be inconsistent with the evidence of her emails, and not credible.
News/North was unable to get in touch with Gordon.