Unfair dismissal claim fails after Luas operator fired inspector who knelt on passenger's legs for 10 minutes

The incident took place at the Bluebell Luas stop in September 2019.

LUAS OPERATOR, TRANSDEV fired a ticket inspector after he pinned a passenger’s legs to the ground and knelt on them for around 10 minutes.

The incident involving the young male passenger from September 2019 was filmed by another passenger and posted on Facebook where it was viewed more than 14,000 times.

Now, Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer, Maria Kelly has dismissed the ticket inspector’s claim for unfair dismissal.

In her ruling, Kelly found that the decision by Transdev Dublin Light Rail to dismiss the Revenue Protection Officer’s (RPO) was within the band of reasonable responses available to the employer.

The altercation over an alleged unpaid fare took place during rush hour at Bluebell Luas tram-stop in Drimnagh on the Luas Red Line on Friday, 27 September 2019.

The RPO was suspended following the incident and dismissed on 29 October 2019 for gross misconduct.

In her findings, Kelly stated: “The passenger was restrained on the ground, in public view, for up to ten minutes. That is a long time for anyone to be restrained on the ground.”

The role of an RPO is to check passenger tickets and they are not authorised to apply physical restraint to passengers.

Kelly stated that the RPO “was trained to manage conflict situations and he did not follow the correct procedure on the day in question”.

She stated that while the RPO was not the instigator of the incident “he participated in restraining the passenger on the ground for a prolonged period”.

Kelly stated that there many options open to the RPO such as contacting the control room, stopping vehicles or walking away and “he did not take any of these options and went outside the normal procedures”.

Kelly stated that it is clear from the video footage that the RPO in intervening in the incident “participated in restraining the passenger’s legs on the ground for a significant period”.

Kelly – who viewed Transdev CCTV footage and audio tapes of the incident – stated that the RPO claims he acted in the passenger’s interest to prevent harm to the passenger’s legs.

However, Kelly stated that the RPO “may have been well intentioned in going to assist a colleague, but the passenger was restrained on the ground for close to ten minutes before security staff arrived”.

She stated: “The issue with the passenger concerned payment of a fare, it did not arise from any disruption or violence.

The incident took place in daylight and in view of members of the public and other passengers.

The flashpoint arose when the RPO became involved in an incident that had started when another RPO received a document from a passenger.

The passenger tried to take back his document and was then forced to the ground and restrained there by the other RPO.

The employee before the WRC joined the other RPO in restraining the passenger and he pinned the passenger’s legs to the ground and knelt on them for approximately ten minutes.

The other RPO involved in the incident was unavailable to comment as he has been on sick leave since immediately after the incident.

Transdev told the WRC that “there was no health and safety basis for the RPO kneeling on the legs of the passenger, who posed no threat to him, for approximately ten minutes”.

The company stated that the RPO was dismissed on the grounds of bringing the employer into disrepute. Transdev argued that the dismissal of the employee was fair and that the sanction was proportionate.

Transdev also pointed out that the RPO was trained in conflict management and was trained to de-escalate conflict situations and walk away from threatening situations.

The RPO was represented by SIPTU in the case and SIPTU argued that the sanction of dismissal was disproportionate and severe in all the circumstances.

SIPTU argued that the RPO attempted to de-escalate a scuffle between a work colleague and a passenger and protect a passenger from a dangerous situation.

The RPO – employed in the role by Transdev since November 2018 – argued that he had acted in good faith to prevent injury to an individual, his colleague and himself.

The man was seeking reinstatement to his position and compensation for his loss of earnings. SIPTU argued that the dismissal was severe and was unfairly influenced by the social media footage.

The union also agreed that the decision to dismiss the employee was unfair and in breach of fair procedures. Kelly found that the RPO was not denied fair procedures or natural justice in the investigation or the disciplinary hearings.

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