Sunday, August 5, 2007

Comments by UNITE HERE activist to Steelworkers’ Conference not Actionable in Court

Found this in my e-mail inbox today:

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has dismissed the defamation case brought by Canadian Niagara Hotels (CNH) and its owners, the DiCienzo family, against one of its employees, Kim McQuillan.

The defamation case was launched in 2004 against McQuillan, along with union officials, for a speech McQuillan made to a conference of members of the United Steelworkers (USW) in October 2003, at the Sheraton on the Falls Convention Centre in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The USW had invited the union representing workers at the Niagara hotel and convention centre -- UNITE HERE Local 75 (at the time, Hotel Employees, Restaurant Employees) -- to address its gathering and McQuillan, then a food and beverage server with Canadian Niagara Hotels, gave the speech on behalf of UNITE HERE.

“Our members were inspired by McQuillan’s speech to our convention and happy to hear from the workers providing us with such excellent service at our event,” said Wayne Fraser, USW District 6 Director (Ontario and Atlantic Provinces) . “We were shocked when Canadian Niagara Hotels and its ownership chose to discipline, then discharge and finally launch this action against her and officials from her union. We are very happy to see this action dismissed.”

Canadian Niagara Hotels took exception to parts of McQuillan’s speech and suspended her indefinitely just a week after the USW conference. She was subjected to lengthy questioning by CNH’s Human Resources Director and then disciplined for giving the speech. She was told she had to give a full apology and retraction of her speech to her employer, CNH, to the owners of the hotel – the DiCienzo family -- to other employees and to the customer, United Steelworkers (USW) District 6.

In a letter January, 2004 letter to UNITE HERE from USW District 6 Director Wayne Fraser, which formed part of the evidence in the case, the USW expressed dismay at the actions taken by CNH and its ownership.

“I am now informed that the hotel has retained a law firm to threaten Kim with a defamation action in an attempt to extract from her apologies to and to [District 6],” says the letter, quoted in court documents, “Let me tell you as directly as I can that [District 6] is not requesting and will never request that Kim McQuillan make any sort of apology to [District 6] for her comment. Much to the contrary, our members found her comments to be both supportive of our decision to use [the Company’s] facilities and inspiring for the tale of determination that they told.”

The lawsuit was dismissed by the Superior Court of Justice, on the grounds that the Court has no jurisdiction to deal with the claim. In his decision handed down on Friday, July 27th Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas Lederer found the dispute arose directly from the employment relationship and suing McQuillan and the union officials constituted "an improper attempt to remove the dispute to the court only after the Company's efforts to obtain an apology through its authority, under the collective agreement, to discipline failed".

In the ordinary course, costs of a motion and costs of an action are awarded against the unsuccessful party. No order has yet been made with respect to costs of this motion and the lawsuit itself.

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