Calgary bus driver challenges firing

Calgary transit bus at the University of Calgary campus.
Calgary transit bus at the University of Calgary campus. Stock photo by Getty Images.

The City of Calgary has found a creative way to dismiss a homophobic employee by not even mentioning the real reason the worker was fired in his termination letter.

Jesse Rau was fired last week for what he claims was his refusal to drive a Pride bus. He shared his termination letter with the media, wherein his former employer informed him he was let go due to breaching the City’s code of conduct and media-relations policy. It failed, however, to mention his refusal to drive the bus.

See: Employee rights on termination of employment

The bus, which incited the controversy, is decked out in rainbow colours that symbolizes Pride parades around the world. It was driven around the city prior to the parade, which took place on September 6.

Rau’s termination letter states he had not and would not be assigned to drive the pride bus. Furthermore, it says Rau made untrue accusations against his employer that involved a fabricated driving complaint against Rau.

See: Firing an employee: what to know

The letter also accused Rau of having posted “Nazi-related content” on his Facebook account, on which he identified himself as a bus driver. Rau claims those pictures are anti-Nazi, not pro-Nazi and the City misinterpreted his message in posting those pictures.

Rau believes it was his unwillingness in driving the Pride bus that got him dismissed, and not the reasons cited in the city’s termination letter. He called the pride parade a “sex party” and claims that other drivers shared his reluctance. He is part of the Street Church of Calgary, an organization that has condemned homosexuals on its website as “minions of Satan.” The church is planning to hold a rally to support Rau.

It begs the question: can an employee refuse to work if it goes against their beliefs, without having the threat of termination hanging over their head?

Employees can, of course, be terminated, but they have to be terminated for cause. That means an employee is fired for misconduct, disobedience or willful neglect at their place of employment. However, the standard to prove cause is quite high and the employee’s wrongdoing must be equivalent to a dismissal. Lastly, the termination cannot be affected by discrimination in any way.

See: What kind of mistakes can get me fired?

In this case, could a claim for religious discrimination be made? After all the Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives us fundamental rights like freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, and expression and tells us we cannot be discriminated against based on religion.

So can a person be fired for refusing to drive a bus that is for the purposes of celebrating the gay community in Calgary, based on their religious beliefs that it’s wrong to do so?

In the 2012 Supreme Court Case of S.L. v. Commission scolarie des Chenes, the Court voiced the opinion that if a person is sincere in their belief that his or her religion prohibits them to act in a certain way, then they are protected against being forced to do something that goes against that belief.

Rau claims it was only after he told his employer about his reluctance to drive the bus that the transit company asked other drivers if they actually wanted to drive the bus.

Doug Morgan of Calgary Transit told the media that drivers are expected to uphold the code of conduct and that he cannot discuss details on a personal file.

It remains to be seen if Rau will proceed with an action against Calgary Transit.

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