06/20/2016 12:59 EDT | Updated 06/21/2017 01:12 EDT

Nova Scotia cardiologist wins $1.4 M in 'workplace bullying' lawsuit

HALIFAX — A Halifax cardiology researcher says she feels vindicated after winning a $1.4 million lawsuit against the Nova Scotia Health Authority, in what is believed to be the largest award of its kind in Canada.

But Dr. Gabrielle Horne said Monday she's not yet sure if she can get back to her research.

The verdict was delivered by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury on Friday, and Horne said it's believed to be the largest sum ever awarded for a loss of reputation and career lawsuit.

The case has dragged on for 14 years, but Horne said the verdict will help her move on personally and professionally.

"I'm thrilled and delighted, but I'm still feeling a little dizzy about it all," Horne, who works in the cardiology department at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, said in a phone interview.

Horne said she launched the case in 2002 after a spat over her research on "the mechanical differences in the hearts of patients who have stable and unstable heart muscle problems."

Horne said a colleague wanted a position in the research program she directed, but Horne decided that wasn't in the best interest of the program.

She said the colleague then made a number of complaints about her and "the situation snowballed" and her hospital privileges were changed so she could not work in the clinic where she saw cardiac patients.

As a result, she couldn't conduct the research and the entire research program folded, said Horne.

Horne said although she feels relieved by the verdict, researching is her passion and it's not clear yet whether she'll be able to return to it.

She said she can't apply for grants anymore because she was unable to complete work funded by her last grant.

Horne said her lawsuit originally sought damages that would fund a plan to rebuild the research program, but at the end of the 33-day trial, the judge decided that the jury wouldn't be able to consider those damages.

"So at the stroke of a pen, 80 per cent of the damage claim disappeared and the jury wasn't allowed to consider it," said Horne, who hasn't been able to do any research since the dispute began 14 years ago.

"So while I'm absolutely thrilled about the jury's verdict, the difficult part for me is that it isn't clear to me how I can get back to doing research."

Horne said she will discuss next steps with her lawyer soon.

She said the verdict is an important statement on workplace bullying.

"I believe (the jury) has made the hospital a safer place for people to work," said Horne. "They've put all institutions on notice that enabling and abetting workplace bullying and abuse of power has consequences."

The Nova Scotia Health Authority was formed last year after the Liberal government merged various health districts in the province. The lawsuit was launched against the then-Capital District Health Authority.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority issued a statement saying it would not be appropriate for it to comment on the actions of previous organizations.

"We look forward to moving on from this matter with a continued focus on fostering an environment for leading health research and care," the statement said.

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