Judge rules Halifax Transit had no cause to fire bus driver

Jill Webb gets to drive again

JILL WEBB GOT HER JOB BACK. She wouldn’t have without her union. Even then it wasn’t easy. Why it wasn’t, and why she was fired to begin with, raises it’s own questions.

Halifax Transit fired Jill in September 2018. Her union, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Local 508, stood by her. They filed a grievance to challenge her firing. An arbitrator ruled the employer went too far: Jill should not have been fired.

Halifax Transit refused to accept the ruling. They demanded, and got, a judicial review of the arbitrator’s ruling.

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Jamie Campbell heard the case. He agreed with the arbitrator. Halifax Transit was wrong to fire Jill. On Dec. 11, after close to 20 months without work or pay, Jill Webb got her job back.

What really got Jill Webb fired?

Three things to know about Jill Webb: she is a woman, she is Black and she questions authority. Not someone bosses are ever likely to pick as Employee of the Month.

Jill Webb is what bosses call a “problem employee”—the kind they like to “weed out.” Halifax Transit found reasons to discipline her with suspensions five times in her seven years as a bus driver. A suspension in 2017 was for “disrespect with passengers.”

And yet, 2017 is the year she won gold as the best bus driver in the city in the People’s Choice Awards run by the Halifax Coast newspaper.

The write-up in the Coast noted: “Jill Webb is excited. And why not? After six and a half years behind the wheel of nearly every transit route in the city, she’s been voted Halifax’s Best Bus Driver. Not only does Webb keep the wheels turning, but she makes sure to treat her passengers with respect and kindness. ‘I took the bus my whole life, and I know what it’s like taking the bus, so I try to treat people as good as I can.’”

‘Coherent, rational and transparent’

If Halifax Transit was out to get Jill Webb they overplayed their hand. Jill’s union said so, an arbitrator said so and the a NS Supreme Court justice said so.

“From the ‘wide-angled’ perspective, the arbitrator’s decision was reasonable,” wrote Justice Campbell. “The reasoning path was internally coherent, rational, and transparent. The conclusion that he reached was reasonably supportable on the facts and the law.”

The justice also wrote finding fault with the arbitrator’s ruling against Halifax Transit would require a willful disregard of the reasoning used “[e]ven if one were to feel compelled to venture into the weeds on this one.”

Halifax Transit fired Webb as a penalty justified by four incidents in the summer of 2018. The arbitrator ruled that two of those incidents did not warrant any discipline.

In the third the arbitrator noted: “I find it ironic that the grievor [Webb] was the one who was threatened, filed a complaint and ends up being disciplined.”

In the fourth the arbitrator ruled the incident was “deserving of discipline.”

‘An extreme remedy’

“Having found that discipline was justified regarding two of the four incidents, the arbitrator went on to consider whether the termination of Ms. Webb’s employment was an extreme remedy and if so, what alternate penalty would be fair and reasonable,” Campbell wrote.

The arbitrator did decide Webb’s punishment was too harsh.

Campbell confirmed that Halifax Transit had cause to discipline Webb. But not to terminate her. He also held that enduring a 20-month unpaid suspension while fighting to get her job back was penalty enough.

Justice Campbell also awarded $1,000 in costs to the union.

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