Two former city employees who were fired in the aftermath of a confrontation between Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli and a city taxi inspector is inching towards a day in court. Mediation between the two sides collapsed recently and now a pre-trial hearing is set for next January with the trial slated to begin on March 24, 2014. Tom Redmond and Randy Charlton were fired for ‘‘harassment” following an alleged threatening and obscenity-laced altercation between Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli and a taxi inspector, Michael Francoeur. Court documents indicate Francoeur was accused by Morelli of being overzealous in pulling unsafe taxis off the road during a safety blitz. A taxi owner friend of the councillor complained to Morelli who rushed down to the city garage to confront Francoeur. Among other things, Morelli is alleged by Francoeur to have threatened to have him fired. Neither Redmond nor Charlton, who were managers in the Standards and Licencing Department, witnessed or were involved in the altercation but they were subsequently fired as a result of Francoeur’s harassment allegations.. After the confrontation between Morelli and Francoeur, Council ultimately voted on a motion sponsored by Morelli and Coun. Sam Merulla to make changes to the taxi inspector job description to require the inspector to be a licenced mechanic.
In a report prepared at the request of Planning and Economic Development Committee, Mr. Charlton recommended against the change in job description and included a caution from the City legal department that Francoeur might legally challenge the decision to change the job description. However, Charlton’s report was revised by Lee Ann Coveyduck, Manager of the Planning and Economic Development Department, removing his recommendation and caution. This change was made without Mr. Charlton’s approval first being obtained. The change rendered the inspector in question no longer qualified for the position, triggering the charges of harassment by Francoeur and the eventual termination of Charlton and Redmond. Lawyer Jim Fyshe is a certified specialist in labour law. He says in 30 years of practice in employment law he has never seen a case like this. “95 percent of these cases get settled out of court,’ When the wrongful dismissal suit was first filed Fyshe made a routine approach to the city to discuss negotiating a settlement. He was surprised at the response “My clients have, in my opinion, a very strong case.
Normally the parties will weigh their chances of success and the cost of litigation and try and reach a mutually acceptable compromise. But I was informed by the City early on that they would never settle and, if they lost at trial, they would fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court.” When informed about the amount spent by the City on legal fees to defend against the claim of wrongful dismissal, rumored to be approaching $750,000, Fyshe expressed surprise. “My clients made diligent efforts to find other employment after they were terminated. We have, for some time now, been aware of the value of this case if the plaintiffs are completely successful at trial. If your figures are accurate, I find it difficult to understand how a defendant (the City) can spend more on legal fees than the case is potentially worth”.