West Kelowna  

Dismissal overturned

The District of West Kelowna did not have the right to fire one of its assistant fire chiefs for impaired driving.

That was the conclusion of Justice Heather MacNuaghton after former firefighter Kerry Klonteig sued the city for wrongful dismissal.

Klonteig was dismissed by what was then the District of West Kelowna Oct. 9, 2013, after he failed two roadside breathalyzer tests two days earlier.

He was handed a 90-day administrative roadside prohibition and the vehicle, a district truck issued to the fire chief, was impounded.

Klonteig filed suit, claiming he was wrongfully dismissed, and seeking 18 months of severance, on the basis "the wrongful termination of his employment essentially erased his 18 years of experience as a career firefighter."

He had been unable to find employment as a firefighter since the firing.

The city claimed it had just cause, saying the incident was serious enough and incompatible with his duties, in particular, his responsibility for ensuring public safety.

MacNaughton stated in her ruling that community members would expect a senior employee, in a department dealing with the protection of the public and public safety, to avoid risk of public harm. "I note that Mr. Klonteig was not the public face of the fire department. That role fell to Chief (Wayne) Schnitzler. Mr. Klonteig’s role was more administrative. "

She further noted Klonteig did not lose the confidence of his fellow firefighters and, as such, "it is difficult to conclude that members of the public at large would do so."

"There was no evidence that the public at large would have been offended by Mr. Klonteig's lack of judgment being sanctioned by a lengthy suspension without pay."

While siding with Klonteig, MacNaughton did not agree he was entitled to 18 months severance. Instead, she stated he was limited to the five months salary provided for in his employment contract, $42,325, plus court costs.

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