Just Cause – You Make The Call

Richard Zerr was employed with The Corporation of the District of North Vancouver (the “District”) commencing August 10, 1988, initially earning an annual salary of $92,622.00 as Director of Community Planning.

In 2001, Mr. Zerr was promoted to the position of Director of an enlarged Department of Planning, Engineering, Parks and Regulatory Services. In this position, Mr. Zerr had ultimate responsibility over 325 employees and earned $125,000.00 per year.

Mr. Zerr was terminated for cause on August 20, 2004 as a result of an allegation that he submitted false travel reports.

The relevant facts are as follows:

• Prior to 2004 the District never required detailed mileage logs from its employees, although it did have them record annual totals;

• There was no issue that Mr. Zerr was a very dedicated and hard working employee;

• As part of his managerial functions, Mr. Zerr was responsible for managing the application of the Districts policies, including the car allowance policy;

• An audit of the car allowance claims was done in April, 2004. As part of the audit, an email was sent to Mr. Zerr (as well as others) requesting a travel log;

• Mr. Zerr stated that he asked his assistant to construct a log based on his outlook schedule, not having kept a detailed log during the course of the year;

• Mr. Zerr indicated that his assistant delivered the log to the auditor without his review or consent;

• The assistant testified that she prepared the log in accordance with Mr. Zerr’s instructions, that Mr. Zerr then made changes to it, and then delivered the log to the auditor based on Mr. Zerr’s instructions;

• The log submitted contained false entries.

If you believe that the above facts would warrant Mr. Zerr’s termination cause, you are right. The Court stated that when called upon to produce the logs that Mr. Zerr “could simply have said that he never kept any logs”, and that would likely have been the end of the matter. However, that is not what happened and the cover up is what ultimately resulted in a finding of just cause. The Court found that Mr. Zerr “knowingly submitted a false travel log” and “later falsely accused his assistant of submitting the log without his approval”. In such circumstances, the Court held, “a senior manager could not responsibly expect to retain his position”.

The Court went to great pains to state that zero tolerance for employee dishonestly is not the law. In fact, the Court held, “a warning or other discipline would be the appropriate course”. However, in this case Mr. Zerr clearly crossed the line, most notably by not simply stating the truth (that no log was kept) but then falsely blaming his assistant for submitting the log without his approval.

The lesson to be learned from this case is that the Court may in certain circumstances forgive specific conduct such as, for example, failing to keep a log when otherwise required. However the Court will not likely forgive a mistruth such as Mr. Zerr trying to cover up by blaming his assistant for the false entries in the log.

This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Any individual questions or legal issues should be discussed with independent counsel.