CN employee voluntarily took severance package, court rules

Employee’s complaint she was coerced once she inquired about package is rejected
|employmentlawtoday.com

A worker’s complaint she was coerced into accepting a severance package has been denied by the Federal Court of Canada.

Gail Yacucha worked as an account development officer for Canadian National Railway (CN) in Winnipeg. Except for a two-year period in Calgary, she had worked for CN in Winnpeg since 1969. However, she had enjoyed living in Calgary and only reluctantly returned to Winnipeg when her position in Alberta was eliminated.

In May 1998, Yacucha went on stress leave for three months. During this time, she told her family physician she was thinking of leaving her job in the near future and wanted to return to Alberta. At the time, CN was downsizing and offering severance packages to employees who were willing to leave the company voluntarily.

Yacucha returned to work on July 28, 1998 and within a couple of days she told her supervisor she would be interested in looking at a separation package. She was given a document outlining what her severance would be and Yacucha said she would consider it. Her supervisor claimed she accepted the package.

Pension scenarios were reviewed with Yacucha and on Aug. 27, 1998, she received a letter confirming her employment would be terminated on Aug. 31. It included severance and pension information and Yacucha didn’t raise any concerns.

The next day, a new organizational chart was shown in a departmental staff meeting. Yacucha said she was shocked to see someone else’s name in her position, though she didn’t object.

On Aug. 31, Yacucha met with an outplacement consultant and expressed second thoughts about leaving CN. She then told this to her supervisor who got frustrated and said it was too late in the process to change her mind. A replacement had been found and the arrangements had been made. He told her to go home and think about it.

Yacucha though about it and called the next day, saying she was happy with her decision to leave and it was the right one for her. She soon put her Winnipeg house up for sale and made preparations to move to Calgary. However, she couldn’t find work right away and her relationship with a Calgary man ended. She told her doctor she regretted quitting her job at CN.

Yacucha filed a complaint saying she had been coerced into leaving CN through the letter and organizational chart in the meeting before she had decided to go through with it, resulting in unjust dismissal. After an adjudicator ruled against her, she appealed the decision, claiming her stress and psychological state weren’t properly considered.

The court agreed with the adjudicator’s finding that she had been stressed out from her work at CN and wasn’t happy. It was clear she wanted to leave Winnipeg and move back to Calgary. There wasn’t any indication her supervisor or CN wanted her to leave and she had approached CN on the matter.

The court found the new chart in the meeting shouldn’t have been a shock to Yacucha as it had been widely known she was leaving and her co-workers were actually organizing a farewell party. She didn’t question the letter when she received it and had attended discussions on how to handle her pension benefits.

The court also found her supervisor’s frustration was reasonable, considering the preparation for replacing her and another employee had been assigned to fill her position. He did tell her to think about it, which she did and decided she did want to leave CN.

The court found Yacucha was thinking clearly at the time and CN didn’t influence her decision to take the severance package. It upheld the adjudicator’s decision that she voluntarily left CN without any coercion.

For more information see:

Yacucha v. Canadian National Railway

, 2007 CarswellNat 471 (Fed. Ct.).

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