Trevor R. Thomas
For those who have been following Ascent’s progression (… or, ascent!) from the beginning in September 2020 to present, you will be familiar with our relentless pursuit of living our values. Some recent events outside of the firm are deserving of recognition for exemplifying these same values:
Courage: The implosion of Theranos and the downfall Elizabeth Holmes was flooding the headlines recently. Holmes was found guilty on one count of conspiracy to defraud investors and three counts of wire fraud. So, where’s the courage, you ask? Three former employees, Tyler Shultz, Adam Rosendorff, and Erika Cheung were Theranos whistleblowers. They could have walked away, quietly, and moved on with their lives. They choose to speak up. Their courage helped expose what was happening at Theranos and alert others, including state regulators.
Honesty: I’m giving credit here to technology. Technology helps uncover truths, often in the form of evidence obtained via emails, text messages, etc. Case in point: in the Ahmaud Arbery trial in the US, one of the three men convicted of murdering Mr. Arbery, Travis McMichael, had used text messages to express racist sentiment, including racial slurs, which provided insight into his intentions. While there are some situations where electronic records are subject to nuance and interpretation, others clearly re not.
Humanity & Care: Kudos to our provincial government for implementing a 5-day paid sick leave policy in January 2022. Nobody wants to go to work sick, but for my employees in BC staying home sick used to mean no pay. This new policy provides some financial security for employees and is a welcome update to the Employment Standards Act. That, dear readers, is an example of humanity and care.
Integrity: A recent article in the American Bar Association Journal detailed the story of a US law firm, Cooley, that refused to fire one of its associates that was disliked by Elon Musk. Apparently, Musk disliked the associate because he interviewed Musk while he was investigating Tesla while employed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The investigation led to a settlement in which Musk stepped down as Chairman for three years and a $20 million fine was levied. Despite Musk’s threats to pull his business from Cooley, the firm stood by its associate and refused to accede to Musk’s demand.
Respect: A recent decision from the British Columbia Supreme Court (Shalagin v. Mercer Celgar Limited Partnership, 2022 BCSC 112) reminds us that respect in the workplace is still a requirement in the employer-employee relationship. In this case, the Court found that the plaintiff’s surreptitious recordings in the workplace constituted just cause for termination. The plaintiff, Mr. Shalagin, admitted to making hundreds of secret recordings during his 10-year employment with the employer. In my view, this is a significant departure from respecting your colleagues and superiors. The Court, rightly, found that Mr. Shalagin’s actions amounted to just cause for termination, based on the following factors: Mr. Shalagin knew it was ethically wrong to record his fellow employees; As a CPA, Mr. Shalagin was expected to respect the standards established by his profession; There was no legitimate basis for him to make the recordings, and; From a policy perspective, it would not be a positive development to encourage employees to secretly record co-workers.
Professionalism: Lastly, a nod to all the opposing counsel, judges, Tribunal members, and others that I’ve dealt with over the course of the pandemic who have shown tremendous professionalism while adapting to a new way of lawyering and working within the justice system. Kudos!