Weeks after a long-time employee of Browser's Cafe in Dana Porter Library was fired, WPIRG sent an open letter to the university’s administration asking them to reinstate her.
The former employee in question, Marilyn Boutilier, was fired after being seen on security cameras giving away free coffee and food. Three other UW employees were disciplined with five days suspension without pay for accepting free goods from Boutilier. One of them, Stephen Norris, an electrician on campus, is Boutilier’s boyfriend.
“When we looked into this further, it just seemed … the penalty was unduly harsh. … The rules were broken and Marilyn acknowledges that, but the penalty that came with that, to us, seems too harsh,” said Alex Diceanu, WPIRG’s outreach and resource centre co-ordinator. As of Tuesday, the letter had close to 300 signatures, over 100 of the signers are students. The university has not responded.
“There is a grievance process set out in the agreement between the University of Waterloo and CUPE, and we will follow that grievance process as quickly as we can,” said Nick Manning, director of media relations at UW.
“I’m just shocked because of everyone that was involved, I was the only person fired,” Boutilier said.
“I think we all deserved to be punished in some way, including Marilyn, but I think that even five days for people in our situation, why couldn’t they have given us a warning first?” Norris said, referring to the five-day unpaid suspension he received as punishment.
Part of why Norris and Diceanu believe Boutilier’s punishment was too harsh is her near-perfect employee record. She’s been employed on campus for 28 years and worked at Browsers since early 2001. Norris himself admitted to a less-than-perfect record in his 14 years working in maintenance.
“Okay, you know the odd little thing here and there over 14 years. But see I have had anger issues … they made me go to anger management and everything. I’ve had issues with my foreman since day one. I’m in this fight for her, I’m not in it for myself at all. I took my punishment,” Norris said.
Manning said the university does not comment on individual employee records.
“It’s not about the crime here, it’s about the severity of the punishment. They didn’t have to fire her,” Norris said.
“Is it because I’m female? Is it because I don’t have a degree?” Boutilier said as to why she was fired without a warning.
“There seems to be an appearance at least of inequity here in that Marilyn is a food services worker, [and] a woman, who has been fired for what’s a relatively small, to use the university’s word, ‘breach of trust,’” Diceanu said.
When asked if Boutilier’s gender or education level was related to her punishment, Manning said, “We have this grievance process with the union, and we will follow that as closely as possible.”
“The more I go over all of this in my mind and repeat things, something really smells around here. Why did they fire her?
Something tells me it’s not because of what they’re saying. It must be something deeper,” Norris said.
“Maybe it’s because she’s a white, Canadian, female,” Norris said. When asked what that had to do with her employment, he added, “If you go to any food services outlet, you’re going to find foreign workers.
“You know how these things work … They’ll give you one reason, but really that’s not the real reason. The real reason is because maybe they don’t want Canadian women in there.”
Since her termination, Boutilier has received an outpouring of support. Students, staff, and faculty have signed WPIRG’s letter of support.
“I would just like justice,” Boutilier said. Later this month, Boutilier and her union representative will meet with Marilyn Thompson, UW’s associate provost of human resources, to discuss the grievance.