Dismissal from restructuring, not targeting: Adjudicator

Dismissal candidates decided by higher-ups and consistent throughout organization

A labour adjudicator has dismissed an Ontario bank employee’s claim his employer lied when it claimed he was dismissed because of restructuring.

Arun Senathirajah was a trade associate for the Canadian branch of State Street Bank and Trust Company, a global financial services provider. His position was part of State Street’s Global Transaction Processing Group (GTP).

The GTP had five hubs where trade associates would input transactions into the company’s data system, including one in Toronto, where Senathirajah worked.

In 2008, State Street was feeling the pinch from the economic downturn and took measures to cut costs. This included three reductions in the workforce in late 2008, late 2009, and late 2010. The Toronto office also suffered from the rise in value of the Canadian dollar and was included in these reductions. It dropped from 75 employees in 2007 to 50 four years later.

State Street employees were rated according to their performance. When job cuts were planned, the company looked at employees with the lowest performance ratings and dismissed them before moving to the next lowest. In October 2010, Senathirajah was identified as having the lowest performance rating — “sometimes meets expectations” — at the Toronto office and was therefore targeted to be dismissed. The decision to terminate based on performance ratings was made at upper levels and issued to branch managers.

Senathirajah had been placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP) in March 2009, which was originally supposed to have lasted for three months but was extended multiple times. When he was dismissed on Dec. 1, 2010, he was still on the PIP.

The PIP involved regular meetings with Senathirajah’s supervisor, but Senathirajah began to resent his supervisor and felt he was being harassed. As things deteriorated, Senathirajah sometimes yelled at his supervisor and took time off sick. Senathirajah claimed he complained to HR about harassment, but there was no record of it and State Street’s vice-president of HR had no recollection of such a complaint.

On Nov. 30, 2010, State Street informed its employees it would be reducing staff. The next day, Senathirajah was called into a meeting and told that after a review of operations, it had been decided that he didn’t have a role with the organization any longer. Senathirajah was angry and complained about harassment from his supervisor, but State Street didn’t investigate because he was terminated. It offered Senathirajah employment counsellor services, but he declined.

Senathirajah filed an unjust dismissal complaint, claiming State Street wanted to get rid of him because of his complaints and the restructuring was an excuse to do so. He said he was the only employee to be laid off in his section, and also claimed State Street did not have sufficient cause for dismissal.

The adjudicator found restructuring was a legitimate reason for terminating Senathirajah’s employment and State Street had sufficiently justified the dismissal. The company cut jobs in all of its locations and did so on previous occasions before Senathirajah was terminated. In addition, the decision to fire employees with the lowest performance ratings was made on a global level and not by the Toronto management, so he could not have been specifically targeted, said the adjudicator.

“At the meeting, (Senathirajah) was advised that the company had conducted a review of its operations and decided that he no longer had a role with the company,” said the adjudicator. “The Nov. 30, 2010, email and press release, likewise, outlined the basis of the company’s actions, including the release of 1400 employees. (Senathirajah’s) termination was clearly part of the company’s corporate restructuring.” See Senathirajah v. State Street Bank & Trust Co., 2012 CarswellNat 213 (Can. Adj. under Can. Labour Code).

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