KELOWNA – A former West Kelowna assistant fire chief who was fired for drunk driving in the fire chief’s work truck has won a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge found that Kerry Klonteig, born 1965, was fired without cause and entitled to notice or compensation in lieu of notice, but the judgement didn't all go Klonteig's way.
He was second in command and being groomed for chief at West Kelowna Fire Rescue until October 2013, when he was terminated for failing a roadside breathalyzer while driving the fire chief’s work truck after a night out in Kelowna.
He was given a 90-day administrative driving prohibition and the chief's vehicle impounded.
Klonteig reported the incident to Chief Wayne Schnitzler and they went to the District’s offices to meet with a corporate human resources advisor, according to a recent decision. Both described Mr. Klonteig as very forthright and honest about what had happened, although he initially told them it was a 24 hour suspension.
“It was clear from the evidence of (the advisor) and Chief Schnitzler that they initially believed that the suspension of Mr. Klonteig’s driving privileges was for 24 hours. At some point, they learned of the lengthier suspension," according to the decision of Justice Heather McNaughton. “He was distraught and remorseful… he testified that he believed that he was not impaired and was capable of driving without risk. He acknowledged that he was incorrect about his level of impairment.”
Chief Schnitzler tried to save him from termination, but the District’s Chief Administrative Officer Jason Johnson “expressed his outrage about the potential liability to which Mr. Klonteig had exposed the District’s taxpayers and the risk he created for public safety.”
He was not charged criminally, which McNaughton noted. She said his actions did not rise to the level of other cases of just cause. He couldn't have lost any credibility with firefighters or the public, McNaughton said, because they didn't know about it and because he wasn't the 'face' of the organization. She said firefighters and other municipal staff aren't held to the same standards as police officers because of their need to hold 'public trust.'
“The District did not have just cause to dismiss Mr. Klonteig,” she said. “Mr. Klonteig was not representing his employer when he engaged in the conduct that led to the suspension of his licence. Mr. Klonteig’s off-duty conduct was not incompatible with his faithful discharge of his duties or otherwise prejudicial to the interests or reputation of the District, and that his termination was without cause.”
Klonteig wanted 18 months’ notice or salary in lieu of notice, but McNaughton said that won't apply because West Kelowna did not act in bad faith or impugn his reputation. He was entitled to five months notice, she decided.
Based on his rate of pay at the date of his termination, he is entitled to $42,325, although he must also reimburse Unemployment Insurance for nearly $8,000.
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