Brian Swidrovich, 63, was blindsided when he was fired as manager of the Credit Union Centre in 2011. He was branded a fraud and unable to find other work. He struggled with sleeplessness and social isolation. Earlier this month he won a wrongful dismissal suit he filed seven years ago and the Credit Union Centre — now Sasktel Centre — has been ordered to pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.
Kayle Neis / Saskatoon StarPhoenix
For more than a year, former Credit Union Centre executive Brian Swidrovich says he spent almost every minute of every day wondering if a judge’s decision as to whether he had been wrongly fired would come down.In February — about seven years after he filed the wrongful dismissal suit and 14 months after the case went to trial — it finally did. Swidrovich, now 63, won the suit and is to receive damages estimated at up to $300,000.When he received an email with the news, Swidrovich said he was on holidays in the U.S. with his former colleague, Will Antonishyn, who was fired alongside Swidrovich in January 2012 and who was also a plaintiff on the suit.“A couple tears popped into all of our eyes because there’s a sense of release, I guess. Relief and release,” Swidrovich said. “At the same time, the shock of the time frame also hit home again: Oh my gosh, it’s been seven years … It was exhilarating, but, at the same time, it was also confusing.”Swidrovich was the director of business and sponsorship for Credit Union Centre (now SaskTel Centre), while Antonishyn was director of ticketing and finance. They were fired for cause on Jan. 20, 2012 by the organization’s new executive director, who had taken the job just weeks earlier.The executive director, Will Lofdahl, said they lost their jobs because they did not get board approval for a trip to Arizona with the organization’s outgoing executive director in October 2011 on which they spent nearly $8,000 for airfare, meals, drinks, golf and tickets to an Arizona Cardinals football game.In a 70-page written decision issued last month, Justice Richard Elson said Credit Union Centre did not have cause to fire the men, largely because the trip had been approved by their immediate supervisor at the time.“We fought this right from square one and we did this because we were right and somebody beyond us had to agree to that and understand that,” Swidrovich said.He and Antonishyn were “totally blindsided” when they were fired in 2012, he added. The story was widely reported in Saskatoon and it wasn’t long before he lost friends as well as his employment, he said.“A lot of the people I used to do business with avoided me. That’s pretty tough to take in a community this size.”The stress caused him to have difficulty sleeping and his asthma began acting up, he said. He and his wife thought about leaving Saskatoon and starting fresh “many times,” but his whole family was entrenched in the city and he couldn’t bring himself to do it.“And quite frankly that’s really what got me through the last seven years, is the family life,” he said. “Going to the little kids’ basketball games or T-ball — those kind of things, they bring you back to Earth.”For the first three years after he was fired, Swidrovich said he couldn’t find another job — and he wasn’t surprised. News articles about his termination were the first thing prospective employers saw upon searching his name online.“Not too many people are going to want to hire someone who apparently disobeyed a board decision and did something fraudulent technically,” Swidrovich said, adding that he believes that if he had been let go without cause he would have been able to find a job the next day.“I had a pretty good reputation in town. And once that’s damaged, it’s really tough to regain.”He was eventually hired to do business development with the Wyant Group Raceway.Swidrovich said the seven-year legal saga to get to last month’s decision has “gobbled up so much of (his) energy and time and headspace,” but he’s glad he didn’t give up.He said his kids have watched every step of the process and he hopes they’ve learned that some things are worth tough sacrifices.“(My reputation) was worth fighting for. Not just for me, but for my family, my family name,” he said. “My children and grandchildren should never have to go through life with anyone questioning whether their dad/grandpa did what the city said they did.”He also said he hopes his experience inspires others to go to bat when they know they’ve been wronged.“I think it’s important for the little guy in town to know it’s possible to fight the big people and still win something, come out of it looking okay,” he said.The court ordered Credit Union Centre — now SaskTel Centre — to pay Swidrovich damages equal to 20 months of income and benefits he would have received during the corresponding period of time following his dismissal, and to pay Antonishyn 24 months worth of damages.The court did not award moral or punitive damages to the men. Swidrovich said he and his lawyer are still talking about whether to appeal that email@example.comTwitter.com/MsAndreaHillRelated