TTC CEO accused of 'disregard' for safety, enforcement unit by former constable in lawsuit seeking nearly $900K
Toronto transit CEO Rick Leary has been accused of displaying a "flagrant disregard for employee safety” and enforcement units in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit launched last month by a former employee of more than 30 years, according to documents filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
The civil lawsuit, filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on May 5 on behalf of former constable Tom Farrell, is seeking just over $885,000 in damages.
The court documents allege Farrell was pushed out of his “lifelong career” in an effort by Leary to move away from an enforcement-forward approach to safety on the publicly-funded system.
The claim states Farrell was subject to two “meritless” investigations of misconduct, which he was ultimately cleared of, but which saw him placed on paid leave for the better part of two years. It also alleges Leary expressed an "animus," or prejudice, against Farrell, participated in a "campaign to humiliate" him.
“Our claim alleges Tom was forced to abandon his employment, flowing from a toxic and unsafe work environment created at the highest levels of the TTC, including current CEO Rick Leary,” legal representation for Farrell, Damien Buntsma of Beard Winter LLP, said in an interview Monday.
In total, Buntsma said he currently represents three former TTC enforcement officers alleging wrongful dismissals. The allegations have not been tested in court.
When reached for comment, TTC spokesperson Stuart Green told CTV News Toronto it cannot comment on matters before the courts “except to say we dispute the claims in the plaintiff’s filing and will defend our position in court.”
In its statement of defence filed Monday, the TTC denies all allegations made against them and underlines that new enforcement strategies are in the interest of public safety and are at the recommendation of the ombudsman. It denies its top executive held prejudice against the enforcement department. It also claims that the findings of the investigation into Farrell "do not implicate the process" and that the senior staff member had intended to retire.
The lawsuit has been launched at a time when safety and enforcement are top of mind for many Toronto residents – in recent months, the system has been at the centre of a number of high-profile crimes. While the TTC maintains its actions have always been in the interest of public safety, Buntsma and Farrell allege they have sowed confusion amongst the department, ultimately putting employees and riders at risk.
A ‘FLAGRANT DISREGARD’
The lawsuit alleges Farrell and Leary's relationship was fraught from the start. The first time Farrell met Leary, in or around 2013, court documents say the CEO “explicitly stated, ‘I don’t like you. I don’t want you,’” speaking about transit enforcement officers.
It also alleges Leary once told Farrell, "I’m the guy to put two in the back of the head,” in reference to his department.
“Leary was adamant that [he] would look to replace trained special constables with security guards, regardless of safety concerns,” the claim reads. While Buntsma says he has no knowledge of the actions of the commission, he speculates these directives were made in the name of cost-cutting measures and a movement towards de-escalation.
The TTC did not address the claims of cost-cutting motives, which were reiterated in Farrell's lawsuit, in their statement of defence. Any change in enforcement strategy, it said, was in service to public safety and its ridership.
“Whatever the reason, [my clients] were not against any de-escalation or new directives,” Buntsma said.
In meetings with the CEO, the lawsuit also alleges Leary failed to respond to some safety concerns appropriately and, instead, "disparagingly [stated] that the employees could refuse to work and take it up with the Ministry of Labour."
“Leary’s flagrant disregard of not only employee safety, but the TTC’s legal obligations, is unacceptable,” it continues.
PLACED UNDER INVESTIGATION
In 2020, Farrell’s statement alleges the tensions between him and Leary came to a boiling point when he was placed under two investigations by third-party legal firms for “meritless” misconduct allegations, including but not limited to allegations of overtime abuse, preferential treatment, and harassment, made anonymously. The second investigation saw him put on paid leave, alongside two other senior officers.
Farrell was “blindsided,” according to his statement.
About two years later, the legal firms concluded the complaints against Farrell were unsubstantiated.
In 2022, Farrell made $139,000 while on leave, according to the Ontario Sunshine List.
“It’s a very troublesome issue," Buntsma said. "Why are these employees off on lengthy, paid suspensions over anonymous, unsubstantiated allegations on tax dollars and public funds?"
In its defence, the TTC argues that regardless of results, it did its due diligence in investigating the complaints and that the use of third-party investigators were "entirely appropriate."
When Farrell was asked to return in 2023, it was under a prior subordinate, the lawsuit alleges. This, alongside the commission's treatment of him, amounted to an act of clear reprisal and left him with little choice but to abandon his position, it argues.
When Bill Perivolaris, one of the other constables placed on leave for investigation was asked back to work in November 2022, he said an interview with CTV News Toronto he initially accepted, but soon after retired, stating the commission had degraded the employee-employer relationship.
“After a 27-year career, I felt like I’d been slapped in the face,” he said.
TTC Special Constables Bill Perivolaris and Angela Johnston arrived at the scene of the deadly van attack about a minute and a half after the first pedestrian was struck. (Scott Lightfoot/CTV News Toronto)
EMPLOYER-EMPLOYEE RELATIONSHIP STRAINED: UNION
Amidst recent violence and changes in directives, the relationship between the unionized guards and the commission’s management has been tumultuous, according to CUPE 5089, the union that represents special constables.
Meanwhile, the TTC maintains its actions were required, already in motion, and have been focused on exploring a more community-based policing and customer service approach that "can be contrasted with a traditional law enforcement approach" at the recommendation of the municipal ombudsman.
"The Ombudsman has made strong public recommendations the TTC should focus on the use of de-escalation, noting the requirement to inspire and maintain public confidence. The Ombudsman went further and noted a need to shift the emphasis from enforcement and compliance toward rider security, service, respect and dignity," the commission's defence states.
"If there is a conflict between community policing and 'traditional law enforcement,' this can still be reconciled with the goal of providing a modern, safe and appropriate service model," it continues.
This policy evolution had nothing to do with Farrell or the enforcement unit, the TTC's statement of defence argues.
Dariusz Nowotny, president of CUPE 5089, echoes Farrell’s allegations that the TTC has deterred its members from being proactive in addressing crime and unwanted behaviour on the transit system.
“We believe that is a major contributing factor to the decrease in safety," he said.
He also points to Leary as having a direct hand in this shift.
“What we want to say is that under the current CEO of TTC, the labour management relations have tanked to the lowest level and this is a very regrettable situation,” he said.
"The union has previously gone on the record asking for our CEO to step down, and I continue to believe the city and TTC employees would best be served if Rick Leary was not running this organization.”
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