Canada: Juries Punish Employers: Two Recent Cases Highlight The Risk Of Treating Employees Poorly

BullyingAs we continue to move forward, knowing from the last couple of Posts “Suicide and Workplace Bullying”, “Jack Reese, Gay Utah Teen, Commits Suicide”, Ann-Sedwick-Florida Girl 12, Victim of Relentless Cyber-Bullying” and last but not least “Hannah Smith Death: Father Says Daughter was Victim of Cyberbullies” clearly show that Bullying and Suicide go hand in hand and are still common place in Schools, the Workplace and the community. This article looks at Two cases from a Jury’s point of view on employers treating employees poorly…cheers
Article Summary
Two recent cases suggest that juries are prepared to punish employers for improper conduct. One long-service employee was awarded over $800,000 in a wrongful dismissal case based upon bad faith conduct. Another employee was awarded over $1.4 million on the basis of workplace harassment and violence leading to constructive dismissal.
Full Text
imagesTreating employees fairly makes sense, both from a business and legal perspective. From a business perspective, negative treatment of workers can lead to reduced morale and productivity, high turnover rates and increased risk of unionization. From a legal perspective, unfair conduct can lead to constructive dismissal claims, human rights applications, occupational health and safety complaints and claims for various types of non-pecuniary damages in wrongful dismissal actions. Two recent cases indicate that juries in Canada are prepared to impose significant financial penalties on errant employers.
Last summer, a British Columbia jury awarded over $800,000 in damages to a long-service employee whose employer alleged cause for termination of employment.
imagesIn Higginson v Babine Forest Products Ltd. and Hampton Lumber Mills Inc. (“Higginson”), the employee worked at a sawmill for 34 years prior to the termination of his employment. According to the employee, after the sawmill was sold his new employer intentionally engaged in conduct aimed at creating a hostile and “miserable” work environment, in an attempt to force the employee to resign. He did not resign and his employer ultimately terminated his employment for cause.
At the time it was decided, Higginson was the highest award of punitive damages in a Canadian wrongful dismissal case, displacing Keays v Honda Canada Inc. wherein the trial court awarded the plaintiff $500,000 in punitive damages (which was subsequently reduced to $100,000 by the Ontario Court of Appeal and overturned entirely by the Supreme Court of Canada).
downloadIn the fall of 2012, the record set in Higginson was broken by an Ontario jury. In Boucher v Walmart Canada Corp. and Jason Pinnock (“Walmart”), a former Walmart employee, Meredith Boucher, was awarded over $1.4 million on the basis of workplace harassment and violence that was found to constitute constructive dismissal.
Boucher claimed that her manager engaged in belittling and demeaning behaviour for months, such as swearing at her and calling her an idiot, as well as making her count wood pallets in front of other employees to prove that she could count. She also claimed that she was punched in the arm twice by another Walmart employee (whose employment was apparently terminated on the date of the second incident).
legalemployeeBoucher resigned from her employment, claiming constructive dismissal caused by an abusive work environment. Her employment agreement provided that upon termination of employment without cause, Boucher would receive two weeks of pay per year of service, which would have been equal to 20 weeks’ pay based upon her 10 years of service. However, Walmart actually paid her 32 weeks of termination and severance pay.
Boucher still was not satisfied. She sued Walmart for constructive dismissal, harassment, discrimination, intentional infliction of mental suffering, and assault.
In finding for the plaintiff (after deliberating for less than two hours), the jury awarded:
As against Walmart
tumblr_ljph37I4QV1qas8z9o1_r1_500$200,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering;
$1,000,000 for punitive damages; and
$10,000 for assault.
As against the manager personally
$100,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering; and
$150,000 for punitive damages.