The Toronto Transit Commission is facing nearly $3 million worth of wrongful dismissal lawsuits filed by former employees in conjunction with its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy implemented late last year.
Court documents obtained by CTV News Toronto show at least four former employees are suing the TTC for a total of $2.9 million, which could come at a cost to taxpayers at a time when the TTC is attempting to recover from historically low ridership and revenue.
The TTC first announced an incoming mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy on Aug. 19, initially requiring all employees to disclose their vaccination status by Sept. 20 and show proof of full vaccination by Oct. 30.
In the following weeks, those deadlines were extended a number of times, with each extension being communicated to employees.
“Our vaccination policy was designed to protect employees in the workplace,” Stuart Green, spokesperson for the TTC, told CTV News Toronto in a statement.
“It was clearly communicated to employees and gave them opportunities to become fully vaccinated with the consequences for non-compliance laid out. The policy was even extended to ensure compliance.”
The TTC began placing non-compliant employees on leave on Nov. 21, with the understanding that employees who became fully vaccinated would be eligible to return to work, and those who remained unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the same timeframe would be terminated.
Employees had to show proof they had received their first dose by Dec. 3, with the intent to receive a second dose by Jan. 2 to avoid termination.
When faced with the decision to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or be terminated from the commission, Piotyr Boldys’ statement of claim says he chose to begin the vaccination process, booking an appointment for his first dose.
Kevin Fox, legal counsel to Boldys, told CTV News Toronto his client had initially been hesitant towards receiving a vaccination.
“He had health concerns. He thought he wasn’t rushing it,” Fox said. “But when he got [notice of the TTC vaccination mandate], he booked an appointment.”
Boldys’ first vaccination appointment was booked for Dec. 18, according to his statement of claim, missing the deadline for a first dose by 15 days. Despite missing that deadline, Boldys was able to receive his second dose on Jan. 8, documents say, 19 days ahead of the final Jan. 27 deadline.
As of today, Boldys is fully vaccinated and terminated from the commission.
“He ended up meeting their Jan. 27 deadline by  days early and still gets fired,” Fox said
“To me, it’s just punitive on their part, just arbitrary.”
Moreover, Fox notes Boldys was working from home during these months and therefore posed little threat of COVID-19 transmission.
Another former employee – Catherine Waterson – was fully vaccinated when she was terminated on Dec. 31. Waterson held a management position at the TTC and had worked at the commission for 11 years.
Court documents claim that Waterson’s hesitance was not rooted in vaccine hesitancy, but rather security concerns.
Waterson says she sent an email to her supervisors on Oct. 6, informing them she was indeed fully vaccinated, but highlighting concerns regarding uploading proof of vaccination into the TTC’s online portal. She cited a cyber attack that took place at the commission a year earlier as reason for concern.
Instead, she requested to provide proof of vaccination via video conference. She says her request was denied and she was terminated on Dec. 31.
Weeks later, the TTC was victim to a ransomware attack that knocked down some of its communications system and impacted its internal email service.
Another longtime employee, Romayne Toban, served the commission for 15 years before she was terminated.
Documents filed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice show Toban filed a vaccine exemption request based on Creed that was ultimately denied by the commission, who said the request “amounted to a personal preference and/or singular belief.”
As a result, she was terminated alongside over 300 other employees over the holiday season. In turn, she is seeking $167,000 in damages.
Paulo Pimentel, an employee of three decades, was also terminated for remaining unvaccinated after the deadline and is suing the commission for more than $1.2 million.
Maxwell Radley, a partner at Levitt Sheikh Employment and Labour Law, told CTV News Toronto the success of these kinds of claims hinges on the specifics of the situation.
“I would say they have a chance to succeed depending on the types of evidence they can put forward,” Radway said.
In the case of Boldys missing the first dose vaccination deadline, Radway said a judge would look at whether the policy is too rigid and whether there was room for exceptions to be made.
“If an employee is making active attempts to try to get vaccinated and the only reason they are not able to get vaccinated is because they can’t get an appointment, I’m not sure that would reach the level of disobedience,” he said.
When it comes to cyber concerns, he said the TTC will likely need to prove their security has been stepped up since it was left vulnerable to an attack and prove that their changes have reduced the risk formerly posed.
In faith-based cases, Radway said he’s seen a success rate of less than 5 per cent for employees, largely because of how difficult it can be to prove a faith-based exemption. That being said, with enough evidence, an employee can win, he added.
“If those factors can be proven in each of those individual scenarios, there certainly is a prospect of success,” Radway said.