When bad things happen to good people - the unfair treatment of Elizabeth Crawford Thurber

When bad things happen to good people - the unfair treatment of Elizabeth Crawford Thurber

As I expect many of you would agree, there is the law and there is justice, and they are not the same thing.

By now you probably realize that last month, Elizabeth Crawford Thurber was fired from her job as Executive Director of Greener Village, ending a relationship she had with the Fredericton Food Bank that goes back some 30-plus years.

 Photo Credit: NB Food Security Action Network

Photo Credit: NB Food Security Action Network

In cases like this one of unfair dismissal, what the legal people call “without just cause”, lawyers negotiate how much an employer has to pay the person they unjustly fired. The condition of a settlement is almost always that the fired person can’t talk about it publicly.

That will probably be the case here. Elizabeth could be faced with the decision to either settle or have the case go to court. While there is little doubt she would win if it did go that route, the process could be tied up in the courts possibly for years, and in the end lawyers would end up with much of the money.

 7th Day Adventist Church, Grandame Street, Fredericton

7th Day Adventist Church, Grandame Street, Fredericton

That’s the law but it isn’t justice. If it were justice, the board of the Seventh-day Adventist Church would have to explain why they terminated a woman who has devoted much of her adult life to helping people. This is a woman whose vision and leadership skills took the food bank from handing out boxes of food in a parking lot, to developing the Greener Village Community Food Centre, a gem of Fredericton,  a place where those in need can not only find the food they need to live, but through the facility’s learning kitchen, community garden and clothing bank, are treated with dignity, and experience the moral support and encouragement to keep going.

To make matters worse, the church board didn’t only fire Elizabeth, but stated publicly that “it was an HR issue and they can’t speak about it because of confidentiality.”

We’ve all heard this kind of thing before. It encourages the rumour mill and spawns doubts about the competence and honesty of the person fired. “I wonder what she did. Did she steal money? Did she abuse somebody? It must have been something terrible for a church to fire someone after 33 years of work and to not allow her on the premises.” Meanwhile, here’s Elizabeth, muzzled from speaking in her own defense.

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Well, she may be unable to speak out, but I’m not, and this is why I wrote this blog. What has happened to Elizabeth is about as unfair and unchristian as it gets. That confidentiality claim is nothing more than an excuse and anyone and everyone who knows her, knows it.

I have known her for decades because of my time as a journalist and from my volunteer work on various boards that serve those down on their luck. Her work has been impeccable, her heart dedicated.  

The motivation of the board for taking this action remains a mystery. It smacks of full deliberate humiliation of their long time employee.

 Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

You can draw your own conclusions, but here are a few facts that you may find relevant. Over the last couple of years, the church systematically removed all board members who were not members of their Seventh-day Adventist Church. In fact now the board consists totally of members of just four families, all of whom are part of the Seventh-day Adventist congregation.

 Photo Credit: Telegraph Journal

Photo Credit: Telegraph Journal

What happened here is a travesty.  And Elizabeth is the victim. Imagine being torn away from your life’s work, and to be separated from friends and staff, many of whom she has been with for 24 years. To no longer be able to even volunteer or mentor, or to no longer be able to share joy and celebrate the success of the organization she so lovingly built. To say she deserves better is about as great an understatement as can be imagined.

I’m no lawyer but I can recognize an injustice when I see one. I don’t know what can be done to force the board of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to come clean about why they did this, and at the very least clear Elizabeth Crawford Thurber’s name. But I think if enough people know about it that could help. So please share this—tell your friends and neighbours, get on social media. Be part of correcting a wrong.

She may not be allowed to speak out, but there’s nothing stopping us.  If anyone deserves answers, Elizabeth certainly does. I don’t know of anyone who has done more to make Fredericton a better community. Calling the Seventh-day Adventist Church to task could be our way of saying thanks.

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