Former Globe and Mail columnist Jan Wong must repay the newspaper her $209,000 termination settlement plus legal fees, according to an Ontario Superior Court judgment released Monday.
The ruling stems from a judicial review of a 2013 decision made by a union arbitrator, which found Wong violated a confidentiality agreement by referencing the settlement in her memoir Out of the Blue.
Wong was fired from the Globe and Mail in May 2008, after being off work for about a year and a half due to severe depression, court documents say. The newspaper did not pay her sick leave between June and November 2007.
In response to grievances filed by Wong’s union, the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, Local 87-M, the Globe agreed to pay Wong two lump sums — one for sick leave and another in the amount of $209,912 representing two year’s salary.
Both parties agreed “not to disclose the terms of this settlement,” the latest decision says. Wong published Out of the Blue in 2012, which chronicles her bitter separation from the Globe and consequential mental health struggles. The newspaper took issue with phrases in the book that reference the settlement, such as “I’d just been paid a big pile of money to go away,” and “a big fat check (sic) landed in my account.”
“It is clear that the one thing that The Globe and Mail wanted from this settlement was confidentiality…And yet, in the end result, The Globe and Mail did not get the one thing that it was paying for — confidentiality,” Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer wrote in his decision.
An arbitrator sided with the Globe last year, ordering Wong to repay the larger lump sum.
Wong, who requested the judicial review, argued that the confidentiality clause was unfair and that her union did not adequately represent her.
Nordheimer dismissed her claims in his reasons for judgment.
“I see little basis upon which the Union's representation of the applicant could be fairly and rationally criticized,” he wrote.
Wong told the Toronto Star she had hoped for a different outcome.
“I’m disappointed,” she said Tuesday over the phone from Fredericton, where she is a journalism instructor at St. Thomas University.
She did not say whether or not she would appeal the decision.
A lauded journalist with the Globe for more than 20 years, Wong faced intense public backlash following a 2006 column that tied Montreal’s Dawson College shooting to xenophobia in Quebec. She has publicly stated that she felt abandoned by the paper’s management during the controversy and that it led her to fall into depression.
Despite Monday’s decision, Wong said she’s much happier these days.
“I’m really happy teaching. I didn’t know it would be so much fun,” she said, adding she’s not cynical about the industry. “I love journalism.”
Wong has also been ordered to pay $15,000 in legal fees to both the Globe and Mail and the union.