A $100,000 defamation of character lawsuit between the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance president and two senior members has been settled out of court.
Allegations of theft by Erik Pigeon, vice-president finance, and UWSA board member Sami Habib against president Kimberly Orr led to a failed impeachment attempt at an emergency board meeting on Sept. 7. 2012.
Pigeon claimed Orr, who was admitting advance ticket holders at the UWSA’s Coming Home Music Festival on Sept. 5, allowed entry to those in line without tickets for cash, which she allegedly pocketed and didn’t remit to the UWSA.
A Statement of Claim, filed on Nov. 26, 2012, indicates Orr remitted all funds collected by herself and volunteers to Pigeon and UWSA accounting staff.
Details of Pigeon’s and Habib’s allegations and the impeachment attempt were published in articles that ran in The Lance and Windsor Star at the time. Orr claims the negative public attention was damaging to her character and health, leading to “anxiety, embarrassment, humiliation, difficulty sleeping and depression.”
The claim, which names Pigeon, Habib and the UWSA as defendants, requested general and special damages in the sum of $50,000, and punitive, aggravated and exemplary damages in the sum of $50,000, as well as court costs totalling $750.
Orr confirmed that the settlement included the UWSA covering Orr’s legal fees. Pigeon and Habib were also made to submit apology letters to her.
“The amount ($100,000) of course to me was something that I took seriously. Personally, I didn’t see it as a reasonable amount,” said Habib.
When asked why she tried to seek $100,000 in damages, Orr said, “That was sort of an amount to try and get them to settle out of court. It has to do with lost income potential from the idea that I could potentially not receive employment in the future because of the article and the slander they committed.”
“The major concern for me was the publications through the Windsor Star and The Lance and the negative effects it could have on my future reputation because that’s something that’s so easily searchable on Google,” said Orr. “I knew that I needed an apology.”
Orr had a lawyer send requests to Pigeon and Habib in October that they provide her with a letter of apology for allegedly defaming her. She said didn’t receive a response from either defendant.
“It was really disheartening. I was hoping we could come to a mutual agreement before it had to go any further, and before it had to involve the UWSA,” she said. “ … It ended up taking a lot more time and a lot more money because they had to be sort of forced to give those letters of apology.”
Pigeon failed to respond to repeated requests for an interview.
Initially, Habib independently sought legal counsel. “I received a letter regarding a request from Ms. Orr on this issue [asking] for an apology. I asked Mr. [Dale] Coffin to talk to our lawyer.”
UWSA bylaws offer legal counsel to all councillors and directors. Knowing that going to court would further cost students, Habib decided to settle.
“The way I see it is, would you rather go to court and have unnecessary expenses? The UWSA is the victim of this whole thing. Student money is the victim of this whole issue. Would you have that go to court and trial?” said Habib. “It was the less evil to me.”
Attempts to contact UWSA legal representation and Pigeon to confirm the total legal costs to the student union were unsuccessful.
“I compromised a lot to settle this and end it basically, which I think was the best solution,” said Habib, who wouldn’t reveal details of his apology letter.
Orr doesn’t intend on publishing the apology letters, but will use them to provide to future employers who may question the accusations brought against her.
“It’s a bit of vindication for me.”