Edmonton

Fired parking cashiers can sue Northlands for defamation, judges rule

Nineteen parking cashiers fired from Northlands in October 2015 have a chance to take their former employer to task for $9.7 million on allegations of defamation and wrongful dismissal.

Former employees seek $9.7M for defamation, wrongful dismissal

Northlands fired 38 parking cashiers in October 2015 without cause. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

Nineteen parking cashiers fired from Northlands in October 2015 will be allowed to sue their former employer for $9.7 million on allegations of defamation and wrongful dismissal.

In its decision released Friday, the Court of Appeal of Alberta rejected Northlands' bid to have the defamation allegations dismissed.

The decision — which came five days after court heard the appeal in Edmonton — upholds the one made by Court of Queen's Bench Justice James Neilson in January.

"We see no reviewable error in the chambers justice's analysis on this point," the decision reads. "Having considered both the size and nature of the group, he concluded that Northlands failed to establish that the defamation claim was without merit." 

Glenda Pidde, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the swift decision shows that the arguments made by Northlands' lawyer had little substance.

"You have to have grounds for an appeal, you have to show that the justice made the error," Pidde told CBC on Friday. "And there was no error."

Northlands had argued that it didn't defame or hurt anyone's reputation because it didn't name individual employees, and as such, people wouldn't be able to identify them as fired cashiers.

Pidde argues that her clients can be easily identified as former parking cashiers. 

"Anybody in cashier services could be a thief, they stole. Right? And here we have an employer that said he was terminating all of cashier services." 

I almost cried, I was so happy to know that judges agreed with us- Susan Pollard, plaintiff

 

The group of 19 filed the lawsuit in March 2016. 

Thirty-eight cashiers were fired en masse on Oct. 5, 2015, after Northlands had two audits done on its parking services department. 

The first audit, conducted by KPMG in April, recommended Northlands switch to an automated parking system to reduce its labour costs. Northlands had a second audit done by Edmonton International Airport, which had experience in transitioning to an automated system.

The EIA audit was done in July during K-Days. Pidde noted the method was simply to count the number of vehicles that went through the gates and compare that number with revenues. 

A former cashier told CBC News earlier this week that they were told to remove their cash boxes after a certain hour of the day during the K-Days and allow vehicles to go through freely.

Both audits found there were outstanding issues with Northlands' parking policies, such as determining the number of parking passes being used.  

Neilson noted in his decision that neither the internal nor the EIA audit mention theft by cashiers.

On Oct. 5, Northlands organization posted a notice and sent an email to 2,500 employees and 1,000 volunteers that it was terminating the cashiers immediately.

The organization claimed the audits provided "compelling evidence that theft within the department was occurring on between 12-19 per cent of all transactions."

Northlands estimated it was losing $1 million a year due to cashier skimming. 

CEO and president at the time, Tim Reid, publicly accused the full group of theft.

One of the former workers, Sarah Pollard, told CBC she's looking forward to the day in court. 

"I almost cried, I was so happy to know that judges agreed with us," Pollard said. "Northlands has to come to terms and deal with what they did and the mistakes they made." 

She said the defamation aspect of the lawsuit is important to dispel assumptions generally made by the public about the former cashiers.

She said potential employers would make the connection to Northlands and think 'Oh look, that's the thief. '"

"It'll be nice to clear our names, and that's what the defamation is all about — clearing our names and showing that we didn't do anything wrong and that we aren't a bunch of thieves."

In a written statement, Northlands said it wouldn't comment while the matter remains in the legal process. 

No trial date has been set. 

@natashariebe