Complaint about company president’s driving not a factor in New Brunswick woman’s firing: Arbitrator

Employee fired same day as complaint about speeding but company claimed it was for performance and cost-cutting reasons

A New Brunswick woman who was fired shortly after complaining about her company president’s driving during a business trip was not dismissed because of the complaint, an arbitrator has ruled.

Michele Blanchard worked for Cobalt C.S. Company in Saint John, N.B. The company was a subsidiary of Irving Oil that manages the parent company’s real estate. In June 2010, Blanchard went on a business trip to Newfoundland with three other employees and Irving Oil’s president, Arthur Irving, Jr.

During the trip, Blanchard claimed Irving drove their car at speeds up to 178 km/h in an 80 km/h zone. At the same time, he talked on a cellphone, she said. The employees reportedly discussed it and mentioned it to the general manager, who told Irving about it. Irving apologized to the employees but Blanchard claimed he continued to drive too fast during the trip, as did other employees.

When she was back at the office, Blanchard complained to the HR department that someone had been speeding during the trip and requested a meeting. The same day, she was fired.

Blanchard went to WorksafeNB in May 2011, accusing Cobalt of firing her because of her safety complaint, which was discrimination under New Brunswick’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.

However, an arbitrator dismissed Blanchard’s complaint, finding Cobalt presented sufficient evidence that it was planning on terminating her employment anyway. The company said the amount of work for its engineers had decreased and, since Blanchard was the highest paid, it made business sense to let her go. It also described “performance and attitude concerns” it had with her.

The arbitrator also said speeding shouldn’t be considered a workplace hazard on its own without dangerous conditions.

The arbitrator found Blanchard’s complaint was not a factor in her dismissal and it was a coincidence that it happened the same day as she made her complaint.

“While it is unfortunate that this incident escalated as it has, we stand behind the fact that we made the right decision and for the right reasons," said Cobalt’s general manager Luke Moffet in a statement following the decision. "In the end, we wish our former colleague all the best in her future endeavours.”

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