Angry bus driver fired for threatening co-workers in separate incidents

Driver knew of city’s strong stance against violence and threats but was involved in altercations on consecutive days

The City of Edmonton had just cause to fire a bus driver who started two altercations with other bus drivers on two separate occasions, according to the Alberta Arbitration Board.

Kirk Sargent drove a city bus for 16 years until his termination. On Oct. 8, 2005, Sargent was involved in a verbal altercation with another driver at the dispatch office. The driver had come in to get a refund for a faulty vending machine while his bus waited outside. Sargent was arguing with the dispatcher over complimentary football tickets and took offense to the other driver’s interruption. The situation escalated into a shouting match. The argument continued when Sargent followed the other driver’s bus in his car and they had another exchange through the vehicles’ windows. The other driver claimed Sargent threatened him, though Sargent denied this.

The following day, Sargent was involved in an incident with another driver. Sargent had requested through dispatch for the bus to wait a few minutes for him at a light rapid transit station so he could catch the bus back to the garage after his shift, which is a fairly common practice among bus drivers. However, the driver of that bus had not been informed and didn’t wait. Sargent encountered the bus in his car later on, which he denied was premeditated. He got on the bus and grabbed the route schedule to check for the wait request. When he couldn’t find it, he got very close to the driver, who was of south Asian descent, and shouted obscenities and racial slurs at him for not waiting. The driver also claimed Sargent punched him in the chest as he did this and threatened to kill him if he didn’t wait the next time. Sargent denied this happened and claimed he had used a calm voice, did not use slurs and didn’t strike or theaten the driver.

After the Oct. 9 incident was reported, the city launched an investigation on Oct. 10. Sargent was notified of the investigation and suspended the same day. When Sargent’s supervisors learned of the Oct. 8 incident, the investigation was expanded though Sargent was not given additional notice. They reached the conclusion that these two incidents, combined with “a pattern of unprofessional conduct in the workplace, particularly relating to your interactions with other employees” was just cause for dismissal. Sargent was given a letter of termination on Oct. 14, 2005.

The arbitration board examined the investigation’s findings and agreed the reports of the two other drivers were consistent and unlikely to have been exaggerated. Sargent’s accounts of the incidents to the investigators and the board, however, were inconsistent and his manner was “cautious and controlled, describing what were clearly emotion laden incidents in a rather bloodless manner which lacked the ring of truth.” The board noted Sargent’s behaviour in the incidents and his past employment record demonstrated a short fuse which he had not seemed able to control despite past discipline. The board agreed Sargent had threatened both drivers.

“An aspect of Mr. Sargent that came through on several other occasions in his own evidence and in the description others gave of him,” the board said. “He appeared to too easily conclude that he was being slighted by others, or being shortchanged or denied his just desserts. It seems that when he feels slighted in this way he gets angry, although perhaps he views it not as anger but as standing up for himself.”

The city’s collective bargaining agreement with the transit union prevented the consideration of past discipline after a certain amount of time passed without further incidents. However, the board noted Sargent’s past disciplinary issues should have made him aware of the city’s low tolerance for any kind of violence or threatening behaviour in the workplace. The city offers workshops and issues workbooks to employees with the policy stating: “Any workplace violence committed by or against any worker or member of the public is unacceptable conduct and will not be tolerated.”

The board found the two incidents were just cause for the city to impose discipline on Sargent. Despite the fact he was not given a second notice when a second incident was included in the investigation, the board noted this was not necessary since he already knew of the investigation. The board noted that while the staff discipline manual outlines counseling before discipline, it is clear Sargent was aware of his employer’s concern with his past behaviour and the seriousness with which it viewed this type of incident. The fact he was involved in a second similar incident in which he showed a “deliberateness to confront” the other driver so soon after the first demonstrated his lack of regard for city policy. Because of this, the court found dismissal was an appropriate level of discipline.

For more information see:

Edmonton (City) v. A.T.U., Local 569, 2006 CarswellAlta 1870 (Alta. Arb. Bd.).

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