Large corporations sometimes make small mistakes. But a wrongful dismissal and breach of contract lawsuit filed in Vancouver against SNC-Lavalin claims the troubled Montreal engineering giant intentionally tried to pull a fast one on Service Canada.
A Jan. 7, 2014 statement of claim in British Columbia Supreme Court says SNC-Lavalin hired Rene Navarro Gonzalez for $250,000 a year, and employed him from Sept. 10, 2008 to Oct. 21, 2013. Gonzalez claims he worked initially as deputy manager of the Barro Alto Brazil mining project and then as project director of the Jacare FEL 2 Project in Belo Horizonte. When the latter assignment wrapped up on Feb. 28, 2013, SNC-Lavalin “continuously represented to the plaintiff that he was still considered to be a full-time employee,” the court filing says.
Gonzalez claims SNC fired him on Oct. 21, 2013 — wrongfully and without cause. Gonzalez claims SNC didn’t pay him between Feb. 28, 2013 and Oct. 21, 2013, failed to pay him the management incentive plan bonus to which he was entitled and failed to pay any money in lieu of reasonable notice.
“At all times, the plaintiff faithfully and diligently performed his duties on behalf of the defendant, and throughout his employment with the defendant he provided himself to be a valuable and reliable employee,” says Gonzalez’s lawsuit, filed by lawyer Christopher Bungay.
The lawsuit alleges SNC provided Service Canada two different records of employment on Nov. 6, 2013, containing false information. The first ROE, it says, falsely advised Service Canada Gonzalez’s day of work was June 5, 2013 and the reason for the ROE was “shortage of work.” The second ROE claimed the ROE was issued because of “leave of absence.”
The lawsuit alleges the false information was provided intentionally by SNC to “minimize the defendant’s obligations to pay the plaintiff for his full-time employment.”
“The defendant’s conduct at the time of the plaintiff’s dismissal, and after the dismissal, was harsh, malicious and reprehensible,” says Gonzalez’s statement of claim. “This chain of conduct continues at present.”
SNC refused to address the allegations contained in the Gonzalez lawsuit.
“Since the matter is now before the courts, it would be inappropriate for us to respond to any specific allegations in the lawsuit. Any specific responses could be prejudicial to both the former employee’s and the company’s positions regarding this matter,” the company’s public relations manager Lilly Nguyen told me by email.
SNC is expected to file a formal response. None of the allegations has been proven in court.
The 1911-founded company was once considered a star Canadian brand.
The company’s ex-CEO Pierre Duhaime was charged in 2012 with corruption in Quebec, just one of several domestic and international scandals.
In 2013, the World Bank listed dozens of SNC-Lavalin subsidiaries on a 10-year blacklist for corruption, related to bribery-tainted bridge projects in Cambodia and Bangladesh. CBC reported in 2013 that SNC used an internal code to hide certain illicit payments.
Many of the subsidiaries on the World Bank banned list are Vancouver-based or connected to major British Columbia infrastructure projects. SNC-Lavalin’s transportation division is headquartered in Vancouver. It built the $1.9 billion Canada Line SkyTrain between downtown and Vancouver International Airport, was owner’s engineer on the $800 million Sea-to-Sky Highway project, has a private-public partnership for the Bill Bennett Bridge in Kelowna and was given the $889 million contract to build the Evergreen Line SkyTrain extension. SNC also has a partnership with BC Ferries called Terminal Asset Management and was named the preferred bidder for BC Hydro’s $1 billion John Hart Generating Station. Port Metro Vancouver commissioned SNC to conduct an environmental impact study of the Surrey Fraser Docks coal port in fall 2013, but the report was slammed by public health officers because it did not meet “even the most basic requirements of a health-impact assessment.
SNC-Lavalin’s three-month whistleblower amnesty, intended to root-out corruption, ended in August 2013 with 32 employees seeking amnesty. SNC also published this anti-corruption manual for its 34,000 global workers.
Are these public relations gimmicks or genuine attempts to right the ship? Time will tell.