Worker’s nemesis follows him to new posting, employer ends up paying for maltreatment

Vito Stina was pleased with his promotion to mechanical service person at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), where he had worked for eight years –– with numerous good evaluations. So on his first day at the Malvern garage in the spring of 1996, he had no idea what was in store for him. It turned out to be five years of employment hell.

The first day on the new job, his foreperson, Frank Zuccaro asked him to raise a bus on a hoist, a job for which he had no training. When he asked what would happen if the bus fell, Zuccaro said simply he would be fired.

On another occasion, Zuccaro and Greg Langer, the afternoon foreperson, watched him remove a generator from a bus for the first time. They said nothing to him during the two hours they spent observing him work. But the next day they told him the mechanic working on the bus after him could have had his hands crushed because of his poor workmanship.

Zuccaro constantly asked why Stina was taking so long to do his work, although he usually left the others on the shop floor in peace. The other mechanics became less and less inclined to help Stina, because if they interrupted their work to do so, one of the forepersons, usually Zuccaro, would hurry them back to their own work. As the months wore on, Stina became more and more isolated. And as an arbitrator would later say, “he felt trapped because nothing he did was right and he was unable to correct what he was doing.”

For the first time in his career at the TTC, Stina received a number of negative job reviews. In one, his supervisor Kelvin Hewitt stated he would not re-hire him. Stina refused to sign off on them saying he had received no training.

In desperation, Stina initiated a move to a lower-paying job as a steam jenny operator at the TTC’s Duncan shop. Things went swimmingly at the new job, and he received a fine performance appraisal. His co-workers didn’t shun him, and his dealings with his superiors were excellent. He applied again for a mechanical service person’s job at his new worksite, was successful and received two weeks’ training. Several months later he received a fine performance appraisal.

All that changed when his old nemesis, Zuccaro, was transferred to the Duncan shop. Again Stina was singled out for negative attention: If he chatted with his co-workers, he alone was told to get back to work. When he asked why the others weren’t treated the same way, Zuccaro sent them back to their places and soon Stina was referred to as a “rat” and a “fink.”

While other workers could use the phone any time, Zuccaro told Stina he couldn’t. His co-workers were allowed to leave early for holidays; he was not. Expressing unhappiness with Stina’s work, Zuccaro would yell at him and kick things around. He followed Stina into the wash-up room more than once and silently watched him as he washed his hands –– apparently in a futile effort to catch Stina in the act of leaving early, an offence for which he could be fired.

Zuccaro accused Stina of not completing his quota of work despite evidence from a co-worker that he had done so. This issue was the subject of a meeting with Anne Pozywiak and Dave Partington, his supervisors. Stina complained that he was being centred out for harassment. He was told this was not a human rights issue. Partington said he would look into the matter but never got back to Stina.

HR wouldn’t pursue the matter

Subsequently Stina wrote a letter to the human resources department, but the department informed them they would not pursue the matter.

He left work in February 2001 feeling so distressed that he went to see his family doctor for the first time about the situation at work. He told the doctor he wasn’t sleeping, had nightmares, woke up in a panic, was vomiting, and was beginning to take it out on his wife and children. He was diagnosed with situational anxiety and depression.

He also finally called his union representative in February. Shop steward Philip Horgan advised him to contact the Ontario Human Rights Commission with his concerns. Stina did so, but was advised by the Commission to deal with the problem internally, and he agreed.

The union filed a grievance saying not only did the supervisor poison the workplace, but that the TTC refused to properly investigate and rectify the situation.

The first of months of hearings into the matter was on Nov. 30, 2001.

The union argued that the TTC was required by occupational health and safety legislation to provide a safe workplace free from psychological harassment. It argued that the employer failed to protect Stina from flagrant, extreme, long-standing abuse. As a remedy, it asked for Stina to be protected from Zuccaro’s misconduct and for monetary damages.

The TTC argued that Zuccaro’s conduct was motivated by a legitimate work and business purpose and observed that he had not written the negative work appraisals. It asserted that Stina was delusional and as a result, misunderstood Zuccaro’s behaviour. It argued that the collective agreement does not regulate the minutiae of the workplace and that the arbitrator had no jurisdiction to deal with claims for damages, since the circumstances of the claim extended beyond the scope of the collective agreement.

The arbitrator shredded the TTC’s argument. Referring to a number of cases beginning with the 1995 Supreme Court of Canada ruling, Weber vs Ontario Hydro, he asserted the arbitration board had jurisdiction to hear cases concerning workplace abuse and harassment and the assessment of damages.

Next he turned to the question of whether Stina had been the victim of maltreatment and answered it with a resounding “yes.” He concluded Zuccaro was not a credible witness by saying, “He was often evasive and forgetful, had a selective memory, and much of his evidence was not supported by the facts.”

Moreover, he noted Zuccaro, although expressing concern about Stina’s productivity, had never followed a formal discipline process to its conclusion. As a result, Stina was unable to challenge him through the grievance arbitration process.

He found the union witnesses were extremely credible and Stina’s evidence consistent and corroborated. He concluded, “Paranoia was not the cause of Mr. Stina’s medical difficulties, nor was misperception.” His medical condition and the other symptoms he described “were caused by his actual treatment at the hands of his supervisor.”

The arbitrator noted Stina had tried to bring about a peaceful and non-litigious resolution of the situation by talking directly to Zuccaro, to Zuccaro’s supervisors and to both the human resources and human rights departments at the TTC. In all cases, he was met “with either an insensitive response or stonewalled” until he was finally forced to go the arbitration route.

In acceding to the remedy requested by the union, the arbitrator emphasized the vulnerability of unskilled or semi-skilled workers like Stina for whom comparable work situations are not readily available. Harassment by a supervisor or foreperson is particularly “pernicious” since on top of having to endure the egregious behaviour, the victim also fears losing his job. The public humiliation Stina regularly suffered also affected his relationships with his co-workers which, apart from family ties, are often “the most meaningful in people’s lives.”

He also found management at the TTC was “callously indifferent” to Stina’s plight and shared the responsibility for causing his misery.

The arbitrator found the supervisor and the TTC liable for damages to the tune of $25,000. In addition, Stina’s sick-leave credits and his pay were restored for the time he was off work in 2001. As well, the arbitrator ordered that Stina be ensured a harassment-free workplace. If Stina found himself in the same workplace as Zuccaro, it would be Zuccaro, not Stina, who would be moved elsewhere.

Finally, he ordered the TTC to train all its managers to recognize and prevent harassment and to provide the union and the grievor with proof of the implementation of the training.

For more information: Toronto Transit Commission and the Amalgamated Transit Union, Ontario Labour Code Arbitration, O. B. Shime Q.C. – Sole Arbitrator, Oct. 6, 2004.

Lorna Harris is the assistant editor of Canadian HR Reporter’s sister publication CLV Reports, newsletters that report on collective bargaining and other issues in labour relations. She can be reached at (416) 298-5141 ext. 2617 or [email protected].

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