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Myrtezaj v. Cintas Canada Ltd.

In this matter Ken represented a plaintiff on a motion by the defendant employer, Cintas Canada Ltd. to strike the statement of claim of the plaintiff for lack of jurisdiction. The plaintiff had commenced work for Cadet Uniform Services as a sales representative in May 1989 and Cintas purchased Cadet in February of 1995.

The plaintiff worked at Cintas’ plant in Toronto. in November of 2003 the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 207 applied to the Ontario Labour Relations Board for certification with respect to Cintas’ Toronto plant.

The union was certified as the exclusive bargaining agent for all Cintas employees at the Toronto location. The union eventually served notice on Cintas to commence negotiations toward a collective bargaining agreement, but a deal was not reached. Eventually, a group of employees filed an application with the Board to decertify the union. The plaintiff took the position that Cintas believed he was a union organizer although he was not in fact an organizer.

The plaintiff alleged that beginning in 2004 Cintas significantly reduced his wages without cause, increased his workload, and subjected him to constant abuse and harassment. The plaintiff claimed he was constructively dismissed.

The defendant took the position that this claim arose from a labour relations scheme and that for that reason, the plaintiff’s claim fell exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

The parties did not dispute the underlying facts of this case but the first issue that had to be decided was whether the claim should have been advanced before the Ontario Labour Relations Board or at common law before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

The Honourable Justice Hoilett of the Superior Court of Justice decided that it lacked jurisdiction:

“11     For all the foregoing reasons, therefore, I am of the view that the circumstances of the present case are ones in which this court lacks jurisdiction. Even if I were of the view that this was a case of concurrent jurisdiction, I am of the view that the circumstances are such as to warrant curial deference to the Board, given the essential character of the dispute between the parties. Accordingly, the motion is granted with costs to the moving party-defendant.”

The plaintiff’s constructive dismissal case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Superior Court of Justice did not rule on the merits of the case. This decision was appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal.

The Ontario Court of Appeal considered the law governing the resolution of competing jurisdictional claims in the labour law context and ultimately and dismissed the appeal. A concise summary of the parties’ positions and the Court’s reasons is found at the following paragraphs:

“4     The appellant sued his employer, Cintas Canada Limited (“Cintas”), in Superior Court for wrongful dismissal. He claimed that Cintas had constructively dismissed him by substantially reducing his wages, increasing his workload, unilaterally altering other terms of his employment, and harassing him in the workplace.

5     Cintas moved under rule 21.01(3)(a) to dismiss the action arguing that the appellant’s complaint was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Ontario Labour Relations Board (the “Board”). The motion judge accepted Cintas’ submission, held that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the wrongful dismissal claim, and struck the action.

6     On appeal, the appellant submits that his claim does not fall within the purview of the scheme created by the Ontario Labour Relations Act, S.O. 1995, c. 1 (the “Act”). He submits that his claim does not give rise to any right of arbitration, since there was no collective agreement in effect, nor to any right to claim relief against Cintas before the Board pursuant to s. 96 of the Act. Alternatively, the appellant submits that even if the Act can be read to give the Board jurisdiction over his complaints, he could not hope to obtain effective redress before the Board. On the appellant’s submission, only the Union could properly take the complaints before the Board. He contends that as the Union has been decertified, there is no reasonable prospect that it would pursue any complaint on his behalf.

7     I would dismiss the appeal. I accept Cintas’ submission that the appellant’s claim is in essence a claim that Cintas changed his working conditions unilaterally at a time when s. 86 of the Act prohibited Cintas from doing so. Under the Act, the Board had exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether Cintas had unilaterally changed the appellant’s working conditions and if so what remedy should be imposed against Cintas.”

Jurisdiction is an important consideration with respect to how to proceed when alleging wrongful dismissal. Ambiguity as to the forum before which a claim should be advanced can lead to a situation where the parties will first fight over which forum should govern.

Full citations:
Myrtezaj v. Cintas Canada Ltd., 2007 CarswellOnt 876, [2007] O.J. No. 569, 155 A.C.W.S. (3d) 547
Myrtezaj v. Cintas Canada Ltd., 2008 CarswellOnt 2046, 2008 ONCA 277, [2008] O.J. No. 1384