A former Port Coquitlam water operations supervisor who was fired in November 2020 has won a wrongful dismissal suit against the city.
In a Dec. 1 BC Supreme Court decision posted online, Justice Bruce Elwood ruled that the dismissal of Marco Stevens was out of proportion with his wrongful use of city facilities to wash his truck and recreational trailer.
Stevens will receive nearly $58,000 in compensation in an agreement reached with the city prior to the Nov. 16-18 trial.
However, the city won't have to pay punitive damages, the judge decided, because the city acted in "good faith" in response to misconduct by a senior employee "from whom it expected better."
In trial testimony, it was revealed that Stevens was promoted to supervisor of water, sewer and construction in October 2018, after a copper-theft ring had been uncovered.
At the time of his promotion, the city was restructuring and endeavouring to reinforce policies about the importance of not using city facilities for private use.
Stevens had risen up the ranks from the post of a tradesman over five years, and was encouraged to apply for the non-union supervisor job.
"You probably shouldn't do that"
However, a few months prior to his promotion in 2018, Stevens used city washing facilities for his vehicle, and was warned not to, the judge was told.
In the 2020 incident, for which he was fired, Stevens was washing his truck, which he used for work, to make it "presentable," as well as a recreational trailer, both of which were dirty from a hunting trip.
However, he was spotted by a bylaw officer, who questioned him about it.
Stevens reportedly told the employee: “You probably shouldn’t do that,” and, “It’s frowned upon,” which is what he told the judge he was told in 2018 when he used the public washing facilities the first time.
The employee reportedly told a human resources manager about the incident during a performance review, and the information was provided to Stevens' manager, David Kidd, who expressed "utter disappointment" in the news.
When Stevens learned of his manager's disapproval in the 2020 truck-washing incident, he acknowledged via text that his behaviour was wrong.
"I had a lapse of judgments [sic] and I was wrong. I’ll take whatever comes from it on the chin. My bad guys," Stevens wrote.
Kidd subsequently spoke to Stevens, as well as the human resources manager and a section head, before he provided Stevens with a letter teminating his employment.
According to the judge, Stevens’ conduct was a breach of city policy, which states "with limited enumerated exceptions, employees are not permitted to use municipal facilities, equipment, supplies or resources for their own private or personal use."
As well, a conflict of interest policy states that "employees must not take undue advantage of their position to derive benefit for themselves, their families or any outside business with which they are associated."
Not dishonest or deceitful
Stevens told the judge that he had limited understanding of city policies, which he read in 2013, when he was first hired and was "given four hours to review the entire policy manual on the city's intranet."
However, the judge said Stevens was aware of the policy to not use city equipment for personal use.
"He specifically understood that washing a personal vehicle using municipal equipment was against city policy," the judge said, adding later that Stevens "failed to lead by example."
"Having said this, the nature of his misconduct was not inherently dishonest or deceitful. Mr. Stevens did something he knew was wrong. His misuse of the municipal wash facility only became known because someone saw him do it. However, he did not steal from the city, and he did not lie to his supervisors."
The judge said that while the policy was clear, there was a lack of explicit consequences if the policy was breached, and Kidd could have done more to investigate the bylaw officers' story about what Stevens said to him and how it related to the 2018 incident.
Still, the decision to terminate Stevens instead of disciplining him, such as by suspension without pay or other means, was likely an afteraffect from the copper theft, Judge Elwood said.
Not the same as copper scheme
"In my respectful view, Mr. Kidd put undue weight on the previous dismissal of six employees and a perceived need for consistent application of the city’s policies," the judge stated.
"Washing a truck at a municipal wash station is simply not analogous to a nefarious and long-running scheme to use municipal equipment and vehicles to steal city property. Reasonable employees would not think it was a double standard to apply an appropriate, but lesser, penalty for washing a personal vehicle as opposed to summary dismissal for stealing copper."
Stevens, who has moved on and has a job as a supervisor at another city, says he feels "vindicated" by the wrongful dismissal suit.
"I wasn’t too happy about how I was treated as a relatively long-standing employee," said Stevens, who will receive $57,910.56 in damages in an agreement reached before the trial.
The issue of court costs still has to be resolved.
Meanwhile, the City of Port Coquitlam isn't commenting on the results of the suit.
"The City of Port Coquitlam does not comment on personnel matters and we continue to follow the advice of our legal counsel," a spokesperson for the city stated in an email.