Brampton’s head of human resources let go after rocky year inside City Hall
Personnel changes following the replacement of controversial CAO David Barrick have begun at the City of Brampton. A key senior staffer has been let go from City Hall as interim CAO Paul Morrison makes changes within the senior administration.
Sandeep Aujla, the director of human resources, had her employment terminated Thursday, February 17. She worked directly under Barrick who was replaced on Friday when it was announced Morrison would fill the role temporarily, following a dramatic week in Brampton where a majority of councillors demanded sweeping changes.
Aujla began working for the City of Brampton in 2018 as a senior manager. In January 2020, a few months after Barrick was named CAO, she was promoted to the role of director of human resources. Aujla oversaw the process of hiring and firing in Brampton, with authority over decisions around compensation and employment within the municipal bureaucracy.
She oversaw human resources for approximately 5,000 staff.
“I believe that the City of Brampton has treated Ms. Aujla very poorly during the process of the recent workplace investigation, where she was vindicated, and through her subsequent termination,” Alex Van Kralingen, Aujla’s lawyer, told The Pointer Thursday afternoon, in an email. “Further, I believe that her termination is unlawful.”
When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the City of Brampton said, “The City does not cite details about individual employees or the status of their employment.”
Brampton's former head of HR, Sandeep Aujla (left), with Councillor Harkirat Singh (second from right).
Aujla was named in bombshell allegations by senior staffer Gurdeep (Nikki) Kaur, who publicly said the HR head had used discriminatory language about Black employees during Aujla's own job interview. The allegations were emailed to councillors, staff and the media before Kaur was immediately fired by Barrick and then rehired the same week under the direction of councillors.
Independent consulting firm Deloitte was hired by Council to probe Kaur’s allegations and agreed with Aujla’s version of the events, that she did not utter discriminatory sentiments against Black employees during her interview. Deloitte cleared Aujla of any wrongdoing.
Deloitte interviewed the people present during the interview and compared their versions of what was said.
Barrick, Aujla, Kaur, a representative from the hiring firm that recruited Barrick and an unnamed employee were all questioned. Kaur and the unnamed employee said Aujla made the discriminatory remarks, Barrick, Aujla and the representative from the hiring firm said the alleged discriminatory comment that was most egregious was never uttered and other remarks were taken out of context in Kaur’s allegation.
“Deloitte found that on a balance of probabilities, the allegation as stated in the April 22nd complaint was not substantiated,” the report said.
Kaur’s lawyer, Lorne Honickman, took issue with Deloitte’s finding, issuing a statement pointing to alleged shortcomings in the work.
“A prime example of this is with respect to the allegation that the Director of HR made discriminatory comments during a hiring process,” Honickman wrote. “The investigators simply state 2 witnesses substantiate the allegation and 3 witnesses (including the Director HR) don’t. We provided documentary evidence, written notes that were made right at the time. There is no reference to them at all. They simply conclude, on a balance of probabilities, the allegation is not substantiated. Why? We don’t know. There are no reasons provided. There is no analysis or comments of who was believed or who was not believed and importantly, the reasons why.”
It was also alleged that, while explaining why the City had only hired one Black firefighter over a certain period, Aujla said that Brampton “only hires the best”. Multiple sources told The Pointer this comment was made in 2021 in a virtual meeting attended by members of Brampton's Black communities. Deloitte was able to review a recording of the meeting and concluded the comment was not in response to the issue of hiring Black firefighters.
“While the Director of HR did mention that the City aims to ‘hire the best’ this statement was not made in response to the question as alleged,” the report says. “The question regarding why only 1 Black firefighter was hired was rephrased by a different individual in the meeting, and answered by the Director of HR.”
Aujla and Kaur are locked in an ongoing legal battle over the allegations. Aujla is suing Kaur, seeking $200,000 in damages, claiming the allegations have hurt her reputation, lowered her status in the community and ‘caused her to be unfairly regarded with feelings of hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear, dislike and/or disesteem’.”
Interim CAO Paul Morrison has been tasked with making major changes inside Brampton City Hall after he replaced controversial former CAO David Barrick.
(Image from The Pointer files)
Kaur’s allegations were not the only controversy Aujla was involved in.
An internal audit last year by the City probing human resources operations under Aujla called for “significant improvement” in how contracts, invoices and potential fraud related to benefits were handled. The audit report, which should have gone straight from internal investigators to members of council on the audit committee, was instead dramatically altered under Barrick before being presented to councillors.
But the now former CAO and others involved in changing the report did not realize that, before she was replaced by Barrick after handing in her original report, the former head of internal audit had given a copy to Councillor Martin Medeiros, chair of the audit committee.
The original audit report showed the department, headed by Aujla at the time, had overpaid millions of dollars to the City’s benefits insurance provider. The funds were recouped when auditors discovered the issue. Councillor Medeiros, who brought the original report forward, alleged at the time that Aujla “refused to sign off on the original report, as communicated to me by the former internal auditor during my briefing with her before her contract was [not renewed] by the CAO.”
The audit found that the City overpaid its benefits provider Manulife by $2.4 million when it switched from brand-name drugs to generic drugs, reported to be 2.5 times cheaper.
When the alarming mistake was eventually addressed, after the original report had been buried when Barrick parted ways with the previous head of internal audit who oversaw the initial work and raised red flags, Aujla put the blame on the benefits provider. She said “human error” on their end was the problem, stating solutions would be discussed with Manulife to ensure it did not happen again. She did not explain why her department allowed the wrong types of medication to be claimed and failed to catch the vast overpayment before the head of audit let go by Barrick discovered what was happening.
The dramatically altered audit report was presented by a staffer who filled the role temporarily, after Barrick parted ways with the head of the department. The staffer could not explain why the original audit, which flagged the glaring issues, was changed to minimize the errors.
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