“They bubble-wrapped me,” says Dr. Gabrielle Horne of colleagues and co-workers. She gestures to include friends and neighbours milling outside the courtroom, all of whom she credits with her survival of a 15-year ordeal.
Workplace bullying became institutional bullying, says her legal team. Dr. Horne has endured it since 2002, and it’s not over yet.
The province’s highest court is deliberating an appeal from the Nova Scotia Health Authority, contesting a jury’s verdict in Dr. Horne’s favour and the unprecedented $1.4 million in damages that go with it.
There is no sign her support will falter from fatigue. The courtroom’s limited public seating is filled by her friends, while the Nova Scotia Court of Appeals hears two days of sometimes mind-numbing legal argument.
Just 18 months ago, Dr. Horne was “elated” with the jury decision, only to be “absolutely crushed” when the NSHA appealed.
The health authority contends the trial judge erred in her charge to the jury, so the result of the 33-day trial in the spring of 2016 should be tossed, and a new trial ordered. Barring that, the NSHA wants the $1.4 million award reduced or eliminated.
“It hasn’t changed,” Dr. Horne said. “Fifteen years and on it goes.”
She wonders if those making decisions at the NSHA today, or Capital Health before, think about the effect their treatment of her has on other doctors and health care workers in Nova Scotia.
“They’ve created an environment where doctors fear something like this could happen to them.”
“Juries don’t like bullies,” her lawyer, Craig Garson tells the court, as he and co-counsel Michael Wright frame the decision they believe should stand.
Wright says the jury found that Capital Health, Dr. Horne’s employer at the time, acted in bad faith. The jurors recognized she had suffered malicious harm in the workplace, so it awarded damages accordingly.
The NSHA lawyers, Marjorie Hickey and Peter Rogers, partners at McInnes Coopers, obviously don’t see it that way, so the opposing legal teams spend the two days dicing finer legal points.
The health authority’s attitude seems to be that all this trouble could have been avoided, if only Gabrielle Horne had gone along from the outset. Her lawyers say the authority blames Dr. Horne – like bullies blame victims – for forcing it to use its power against her when she refused to acquiesce to the way things are done.
Except, she was being asked to “go along” with something that was unprincipled, and “the way things are done” was – maybe still is – wrong.
Gabby Horne’s nightmare began with what appears to be a case of professional jealousy. Her research was taking off and her star was on the rise in 2002. Powerful men wanted in on that research, and she said “no.”
Vague allegations led to professional sanctions against her that remained in place for years despite independent investigations that found the allegations baseless.
When her full privileges were finally restored in 2006, there was some mumbling about procedural errors and a half-hearted apology from Capital Health.
While cleared of nebulous accusations, her career had been devastated, her professional reputation tarnished, and her promising research program was dead and gone.
Now she, while heaping praise on her legal team, she worries about legal fees that are likely more than $1 million, but still a fraction of the legal resources amassed against her.
“Terrifying,” is the only word she can find to describe the feeling when “all the power, all the resources of a corporation (NSHA) with $2 billion-a-year at its disposal seems willing to use unlimited amounts to crush you.”
She insists that there is a world of difference between the health authority and the people in Nova Scotia.
“It’s the goodness of Nova Scotians that got me through,” she says.
Dr. Horne is a Nova Scotian by choice. She brought immense talent and skills that are in demand worldwide to the province, and she remains steadfast in her decision to live here, even as her gifts were repaid by grief from institutions acting in the name of Nova Scotians.
And now, the health authority that has her in court, is in the country of her birth – the United Kingdom – trying to recruit doctors to Nova Scotia. The NSHA would see no connection between those two events.
Gabrielle Horne, MD, PhD. sees little connection between the NSHA and Nova Scotians.
Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.