Calgary city worker dismissed after damaging washing machine

After termination, employee threatened to ‘go postal’

When he attended a home to deal with a water backup problem, a Calgary municipal employee acted roughly with a homeowner’s washing machine, causing damage.

Andre Desantis had worked for the city in the water services department since 2001, when on June 16, 2016, he went to a home after the city received a complaint about water-flow issues.

Desantis worked with Clay Powell, his usual partner, and trainee, Laurie Goodram, on that day. When they arrived, it was decided that Powell would remain inside the truck and fill out paperwork. Desantis and Goodram entered the homeowner’s basement and investigated the problem.

Because the area was cramped, Desantis hit his head and began swearing. When the washing machine was moved, the hoses became stretched and “whiteish” almost to the point of breaking, testified Goodram. 

Desantis should have unhooked the pipes before moving the washing machine, said Goodram. 

Desantis then retrieved an auger from the truck and brought it back into the house. The homeowner’s vacuum cleaner was damaged by Desantis carelessly bringing in the auger, said Goodram.

Eventually, Powell entered the home and told Desantis to go back to the truck and cool down. After the job was done, Powell suggested Desantis apologize to the homeowner for his behaviour.

Desantis refused to apologize, said Powell. However, Desantis testified he did apologize to the homeowner.

The homeowner contacted the city to inform them of the incident, but she said she didn’t want to lodge a formal complaint.

Desantis was suspended on June 23.

On June 29, an investigation meeting was held, and on July 12, Desantis’ employment was terminated. 

The union, Calgary Civic Employees, Local 37, CUPE, grieved the decision on July 14, and argued termination was too harsh, especially for a 15-year employee.

The city countered and referred to two previous suspensions (for unauthorized absences) on his record, which constituted proper progressive discipline.

After Desantis was let go, he went to Powell’s home and threatened to “go postal” in response to the firing, and said he might commit suicide, testified Powell. 

The city informed Calgary police, who visited Desantis and reported that they didn’t believe the matter was serious enough to warrant further investigation. 

The arbitrator, David Tettensor (backed by board member William Armstrong, but opposed by Graham Mahy) upheld the grievance and ordered the city to substitute the termination for a two-week suspension and award damages.

“Taking all of these circumstances into consideration, I conclude that the termination of a 15-year employee, with a discipline record relating to unauthorized absences, for one incident of being emotional, agitated and profane in front of a customer, is excessive. In my view, it falls outside the reasonable range of employer responses,” said Tettensor.

However, the arbitrator also ruled that “the employment relationship is no longer viable.”

“Given these findings that the threats were made, coupled with (Desantis’) denial that he made them, I conclude that the city’s loss of trust in (Desantis), which is an important component of this employment relationship, was justified. Damages are awarded in lieu of reinstatement,” said Tettensor.

The fact that no formal complaint was lodged by the homeowner could not be considered a mitigating factor, said the arbitrator. 

“The evidence of Powell, Goodram and (foreman Craig) Bond shows she was clearly not comfortable with (Desantis’) conduct in her home.”

Reference: Corporation of the City of Calgary and Calgary Civic Employees, Local 37, CUPE. David Tettensor — arbitrator. Rebecca Andersen, Avril Fisher for the employer. E. Wayne Benedict for the employee. Aug. 7, 2018. 2018 CarswellAlta 1616

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