Firing bus driver for giving gift to young girl too extreme, arbitrator rules

Arbitrator says driver not dangerous, just guilty of bad judgment

An arbitrator has ruled termination was excessive discipline for a Nova Scotia bus driver who gave a young student a gift basket.

The 54-year-old drove a route which included a stop at a Halifax private school. On Nov. 9, 2005, a 13-year-old female student who was a regular on his route gave him a bag of cookies because he was changing routes. It was her habit to give cookies to people as a thank-you gift. The driver, who suffered from depression, was moved by the gift and he put together a bag of treats including candy, a flower and a small teddy bear.

The next day, the girl wasn’t on the bus and he asked another student to give the bag of treats to her. He also wrote his name and telephone number on a piece of paper and included it in the bag, though he indicated she was only to call him with her father’s permission.

The student mistakenly gave the bag to the wrong person and it ended up with the school’s dean of students. School authorities decided the bag’s contents were inappropriate, particularly the note with the driver’s name and number. When the girl found out about it, she was scared and­­ ­unwilling to use the bus for a few months. The police investigated the incident, but no charges were laid. On Nov. 10, 2005, the driver was suspended with pay.

On Nov. 16, 2005, the city held a disciplinary meeting where the driver was questioned about the incident. He claimed it was a misunderstanding and he had given candy to student before. He didn’t accept he had done anything wrong.

The driver remained on suspension until Nov. 21, 2005, when he was terminated. A week later, he filed a wrongful dismissal complaint.

The arbitrator concluded the driver’s conduct was inappropriate and did warrant discipline, but firing him was too extreme. The driver had a previous incident on his record where he had asked a girl if he could take pictures of her and had received a one-day suspension. Because of this, the arbitrator felt he should have realized his behaviour was inappropriate and the city had cause for progressive discipline.

However, the leap from a one-day suspension to discharge was too much, according to the arbitrator. There was no evidence he was dangerous and was mostly guilty of bad judgment. The arbitrator ordered for the driver to be reinstated on the condition he not return to the same bus route and the appropriate discipline for his misconduct would be a one-month suspension without pay. See A.T.U., Local 508 v. Halifax (Regional Municipality), 2007 CarswellNS 134 (N.S. Arb. Bd.).

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