The firing of Thomas Harding, the train engineer involved in the Lac-Mégantic train derailment, has been ruled illegal by an arbitrator.
Harding was acquitted in January 2018 after he was charged with criminal negligence causing death in connection with the derailment of a runaway fuel train that killed 47 people in the small Quebec town.
The locomotive engineer, who had been on medical leave since July 2013, was slated to progressively return to work in July 2018 at Central Maine and Quebec Railway (CMQR).
The company, which took over from the defunct Montreal, Maine and Atlantic that operated the line at the time of the derailment, informed Harding on June 27, 2018 that his employment was terminated.
In the termination letter, CMQR said “the relationship of trust” between itself and Harding had been “irreparably destroyed” by his involvement in the Lac-Mégantic derailment.
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The union representing Harding immediately filed a grievance following his dismissal, saying he was laid off and disciplined “without having the benefit of a fair and impartial investigation” as per the collective agreement.
As a result, the United Steelworkers asked for Harding to be reinstated in his work and reimbursed — but the company denied the request.
At a meeting in Montreal in early January, the arbitrator said CMQR’s “complete failure” to investigate as per the agreement prevented the company from issuing “any valid discipline” to Harding.
“This is not a minor ‘technical’ violation of the collective agreement, but rather a fundamental one,” wrote Graham J. Clarke.
In his ruling, Clarke has ordered the company to compensate Harding in lieu of reinstatement.
“Since neither party had addressed the appropriate quantum for those damages, that specific issue is remitted back to them for discussion,” he wrote.
The United Steelworkers said it would not comment on the ruling because Harding’s case is still ongoing.
— With files from The Canadian Press