Worker criticizes the boss, gets fired

Cox v. Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, 2003 CarswellSask 685 (Sask. Q.B.)

The Canadian Corps of Commissionaires is a non-profit organization providing employment to people who have served in the Canadian military or police services.

It provides security and related services to clients, and its organization is based on a military model, with employees holding ranks comparable to the military. Its operations in southern Saskatchewan are headed up by a colonel. In 1999, Sergeant Denise Ann Cox was working for the Corps, teaching and co-ordinating people in parking enforcement.

In the summer of 1999 Cox attended a supervisors’ seminar conducted by her colonel, Terry Lyons, which included speeches, a reception and an open bar. She considered the seminar a waste of time and wrote a strongly worded report denouncing the function:

“It is my recommendation that no member of a working detachment have any further time wasted on frivolous social gatherings otherwise known as supervisors’ seminars.”

About the same time, she wrote two other memos, reporting that a colleague smelled of alcohol and complaining of payroll discrepancies.

The reports made Lyons angry. He summoned Cox to a meeting and told her to explain her reports. She got up to leave. Lyons said he had not dismissed her, and gave her the Commissionaires rules and regulations to read. He then dismissed her from the meeting.

He later decided to fire Cox because her attitude was “insulting and insubordinate.” In her testimony, Cox said that because of prior personal and workplace physical assaults (one of which she had been given leave and counselling for), she felt intimidated during the meeting “in the company of angry men.”

The court agreed her report about the supervisors’ seminar was unduly critical and showed a lack of good judgment, containing “non-constructive, cynical commentary.”

However, the court noted that her employment record was otherwise blameless, and she had, in fact, been given two promotions. The report was out of character with the general performance of her work. The fact that she was intimidated by the meeting should have been clear to her employers, the court said.

The court ruled that Cox had been dismissed without just cause.

The Corps had offered Cox three weeks’ notice per year of service. The court increased that by one week per year, resulting in an award of 2.8 months of pay in lieu of notice. Cox was earning $10.06 per hour, and worked 160 hours a month.

Cox asked for damages relating to stress brought on by the intimidating way in which she was terminated, testifying that she was treated for depression for months afterwards. The court declined to award any further damages.

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