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Vernon won't reveal costs in fire captain's office-sex case

Vernon Fire and Rescue Services
February 24, 2021 - 6:30 AM

The City of Vernon has refused to disclose how much money it spent on its latest legal battle over the reinstatement of a fire captain it fired for having a "brief moment of consensual sexual activity" in the fire chief's office.

The 88-second incident dates back to March 2018, but has stayed in the headlines as the case when on to arbitration and appeals, and then on to the B.C. Supreme Court.

Yesterday, Feb. 22, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth McDonald ruled against the City of Vernon saying it failed to prove its claim that the earlier Labour Relations Board decision was "patently unreasonable."

The Justice's decision means that Vernon fire captain Brent Bond doesn't have to stress about losing his $130,000 per year job.

Bond was fired two days after a surveillance camera – set up in the fire chief’s office for different reasons – caught him and a female dispatcher “engaged in sexual activity.” An earlier court document says the dispatcher “briefly performed oral sex” on Bond when the fire hall was “staffed and the door wide open.”

Both Bond and the dispatcher were confronted by management, but denied the sexual activity and weren’t told about the video footage.

The next day they were both fired for the sexual liaison and their dishonesty.

However, the Vernon Professional Firefighters' Association, I.A.F.F. Local 1517 fought the dismissals and two of a three-member Arbitration Panel found the termination to have been an “excessive disciplinary response” and ordered that they both be reinstated.

While Bond got his $130,000 a year job back, albeit with a five-month disciplinary suspension, the dispatcher’s position had since been contracted out, leaving her with no job to return to.

In April 2019, The City of Vernon appealed to the Labour Relations Board decision asking for a review of the ruling. In September 2019, the Labour Relations Board dismissed the City's request for a review, but a month later the City launched another appeal and lost again

Looking past the sex in the boss’s office headlines, the case revealed a long, ongoing conflict between the Union and management at the Vernon Fire Department.

The court proceedings shone a light on a toxic workplace environment that dated back years.

READ MORE: Sexual activity at Vernon fire hall exposed 'toxic' workplace

Bond, who at the time of the incident was heavily involved in the union, had once been suspended for three days and put on a six-month performance review, following a complaint of bullying and harassment from another firefighter.

The hidden camera was put in the fire chief’s office because the chief believed someone was rummaging through confidential papers and suspected Bond. Court documents say that at one point Bond was aware of confidential information only management knew about.

The Labour Board gave no suggestions for how the Vernon Fire Department was supposed to reintegrate and restore Bond back into the department but dismissed the City's appeal in December 2019.

By this point, the City had spent $240,000 on legal fees.

On top of this, the City had previously commissioned two independent reports in an effort to fix problems within the fire department at the cost of $92,000.

With more than $300,000 already spent on issues at the fire department, the City then commenced legal action. In February 2020 the City filed at the B.C. Supreme Court in a last-ditch effort to have Bond removed from his job which leads us to yesterday's decision.

City of Vernon chief administration officer Will Pearce refused to say how much the City had spent on legal fees for the Supreme Court suit.

As the Supreme Court Justice does not have the jurisdiction to decide whether Bond should or shouldn't have been fired, the case was decided on more technical legal grounds.

According to the Supreme Court decision, the City argued that the Labour Board had failed to address the issue of Bond's honestly or the "restorability" now he was back at work. The City also argued it was denied a fair hearing.

Justice McDonald said the court only has the power to overturn the Labour Relations Board ruling if it is deemed its decision "patently unreasonable" which is a high legal bar.

Ultimately, the Justice ruled the Labour Boards' decision was "rational and tenable" and she could not conclude it was patently unreasonable.

Keith Murray of Mathews Dinsdale and Clark LLP, who represented the City of Vernon in the case, said the City had not given him permission to comment but did confirm the case could now go to the B.C. Court of Appeal.

Whether the City wants to keep pursuing the issue remains to be seen. Any move for more court action will come at a significant cost.

As for whether the case could set a precedent that having "consensual sexual activity" at work would now not good enough grounds to be fired, Murray said that in Labour Board cases, arbitrators are not bound to follow the earlier decisions of other arbitrators.

However, Murray said that earlier decisions can be “influential.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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