Sprint worker, let go after major project ended, awarded job back

Worker improperly dismissed from a position that continued to exist

A court has ordered Sprint Canada to reinstate a worker who was fired when the major project he was working on came to an end.

Barry Lancaster began working for Sprint in 2000 and, shortly thereafter, became a network design consultant. In July 2001 he was assigned to work full-time on a large contract with Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC).

In late November 2002 Lancaster was fired. He filed an action for unjust dismissal.

Sprint told an investigator looking into his claim that there were serious issues with his work, and that when the company got the HRDC contract he was assigned to work on it as an installer of lab equipment — not as a network design consultant.

His performance was fine as an installer and he never again performed duties as a network design consultant, which another person was hired to do, Sprint said.

Sprint later underwent a major reorganization and since the HRDC project was winding down, it was decided Lancaster’s employment would be terminated, the company said.

Sprint said Lancaster had been laid off for, “lack of work or because of a discontinuance of a function,” which, under s. 242 of the Canadian Labour Code, cannot be appealed to an adjudicator.

The Federal Court rejected the company’s arguments and confirmed an earlier ruling that an adjudicator did have jurisdiction to hear the case and could order that Lancaster be reinstated.

Sprint had plenty of documentation (such as an internal job description, pay stubs and many other official records) to show Lancaster had become a network design consultant. But it had none to establish that a position entitled “installer technician” existed or that he held it.

The court accepted Lancaster’s submissions that he had all along been doing network design consultant work on the HRDC project. Sprint did not produce any evidence or witnesses to show otherwise, said the court.

The company’s claim that Lancaster was terminated for lack of work simply didn’t hold up. The network design consultant worker position was not discontinued and, in fact, a second person had been hired to do this work two weeks before Lancaster was fired.

Thus Lancaster was improperly dismissed from a position that continued to exist, and the adjudicator was empowered to order his reinstatement.

For more information see:

Sprint Canada v. Lancaster, 2005 CarswellNat 105, 2005 CarswellNat 4705, 2005 FC 55, 38 C.C.E.L. (3d) 144, 2005 CF 55 (F.C.).

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