SCC: Unjust Dismissal: Big Win for Employees

The Supreme Court of Canada has issued a landmark employment law decision.  The case of Wilson v. Atomic Energy of Canada focused on the definition of “unjust dismissal” under Part III of the Canada Labour Code.  In a nutshell, the Supreme Court has held that the vast majority of federally regulated employees can access the unjust dismissal provisions of the Code.  These employees can seek reinstatement or significant compensation on dismissal.

In other words, a Federally regulated employer, for example a bank or cable company, cannot simply dismiss an employee on a “without cause” basis and provide severance arrangements.  Dismissed employees in these circumstances can file unjust dismissal complaints and seek reinstatement.

The Wilson v. Atomic Energy decision considered the circumstances of a four and a half year employee with a clean disciplinary record.  The employee was dismissed on a “without cause” basis and provided with a severance package.  He challenged the decision and filed an unjust dismissal complaint.  Although successful at adjudication, the decision was overturned at the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal levels and worked its way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Writing for herself and five other Supreme Court justices, Abella J reviewed the history of the Canada Labour Code’s unjust dismissal provisions, which were enacted in 1978.  She concluded that the purpose of these enactments was to ensure that non-unionized Federally regulated employees would be entitled to protection from dismissal without cause.  Federally regulated employees, she concluded, enjoy “fundamental protection from arbitrary dismissal” even with pay.

Although there are certain exceptions including situations involving the “discontinuance of a function” or a “lack of work,” this Supreme Court decision makes it abundantly clear that employers in the Federally regulated sector cannot simply terminate the employment of most employees.

This decision could greatly increase the number of unjust dismissal complaints in Federally regulated workplaces.  For example, any non-managerial employee, with one year or more of service, working for a Canadian bank can seek reinstatement if the employee is dismissed on a “without cause” basis, even if a severance package is provided.  This would, of course, invalidate the minimum type severance provisions that some Canadian banks have tried to use in their employment contracts with employees.

Employees who have been dismissed by a Federally regulated employer must file the unjust dismissal complaint within 90 days of the dismissal.  If not, it appears from the decision that the employee loses the right to this statutory framework and is left with common law remedies alone.

Three of the Supreme Court justices endorsed a vigorous dissent in which they would have held that the Canada Labour Code is, essentially, procedural and does not override Canadian common law.  The minority interpretation would have gutted the Code of any real meaning for Federal employees.

The dissenting justices correctly highlighted the fact that a Federally regulated employee can lose his or her protection if the employee misses the 90 day timeline.  Perhaps a future court decision will enable employees to use the civil courts, if necessary, to enforce the unjust dismissal provisions if the deadline has been missed.  However, for now, dismissed employees and their counsel should ensure that they file an unjust dismissal complaint within the 90 day time period.

It is interesting that the Supreme Court, in both the minority and majority reasons, chose to comment on the common law standards of dismissal by way of obiter.  The court noted that, at common law, employers can dismiss employees “for whatever reason they want so long as they give reasonable notice or pay in lieu of notice.”  This suggests that, for the time being, the court is not about to add in a “good faith” obligation as a requirement for dismissing a non-federally regulated employee.

This decision reinforces the wide gap between employees in the Federal sector and employees in most other provincial jurisdictions.  An employee dismissed on a without cause basis in Ontario can file a wrongful dismissal complaint and sue for dismissal damages in the court system.  In some cases, the employee may also have a valid claim for other damages or remedies.  But reinstatement is not an option, nor is the court required to consider why the employee was dismissed, if the dismissal was on a “without cause” basis.

But in the federal sector, it is now clear that the vast majority of dismissed employees enjoy “union-like” protection.  They can file unjust dismissal complaints and seek reinstatement or significantly increased damages.  Non-managerial employees with more than one year of service who have been dismissed from Canadian banks, telephone and cable companies, radio stations and other industries have significant negotiating leverage and may demand reinstatement or negotiate significantly higher severance packages.

Damages under the Canada Labour Code can be exponentially higher since employees can be awarded reinstatement and compensated for the time that they were out work.  Overall, this is an extremely helpful decision for federally regulated employees.

 

 

 

 

 

CBC Fires Evan Solomon for Conflict of Interest: Just Cause?

The CBC continues to provide wonderful material for Canadian employment lawyers.  Its very public employment disputes are fascinating case studies.  The most recent case involves allegations of conflict of interest against prominent host Evan Solomon.  Mr. Solomon was apparently dismissed by the CBC.  Do the allegations warrant a finding of just cause?  We don’t know yet, since the case has not yet been adjudicated.  But it is worth considering some aspects of conflict of interest cases.

In Canada, employees do owe a duty of fidelity to their employees.  This does not mean that employers can control an employee’s extra-office activities.  However, if personal activities can be linked back to the employer and can be seen to create a conflict of interest, employers may have legal grounds for concern.

In Mr. Solomon’s case, the Toronto Star has printed a story alleging that Mr. Solomon was engaged in brokering the sale of high end paintings and masks, accepting significant commissions for these activities, and failing to disclose the fact that he was earning commissions to the purchasers of the art.   The article alleges that Mr. Solomon came to know the buyers and sellers in the course of his role as a journalist working for the CBC.  The apparent suggestion is that he used his CBC access to certain individuals to further his private art brokerage business.  These allegations have not been proven in a court.  However, the Star has also referenced a public statement by Solomon in which he stated that he never “intentionally” used his position that the CBC to further his art business.

To make things a bit more interesting, the Star also quotes CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson as having stated that Mr. Solomon had disclosed his involvement in the art business and that CBC had not had any concerns.  Thompson supposedly stated that Mr. Solomon had not “traded on his journalistic contacts.”

It seems that the Star was not satisfied with this response and set out to push the matter further with the CBC by disclosing further results of its own inquiries.

There may well be significant factual disputes between Mr. Solomon, the Star and the CBC over these allegations.  It is impossible to know, at this point, what facts will emerge.

If all of the allegations as stated in the Star report were proven true and the CBC were to be able to demonstrate that Mr. Solomon was using his journalistic contacts to further his personal art brokerage business, this could well be the type of conflict of interest violation that would substantiate a dismissal for cause.

However, If Mr. Solomon were to show that he disclosed his activities in a truthful manner to the CBC and that the CBC had approved, even implicitly, Mr. Solomon could have a reasonable case.  Any examination of the facts will involve a careful review of the details that Mr. Solomon disclosed to the CBC compared to the actual facts and activities that can be proven.

In this picture, it appears that cracks in the paint started to appear when one of Mr. Solomon’s art deals became acrimonious.  Apparently there was a dispute over commissions owing with respect to one of Mr. Solomon’s sellers.   The story involving allegations of conflict of interest broke subsequently.

Although only a few Canadian employees might have the opportunity to broker high end artwork with the connections that they meet at the workplace, there are many other types of conflict of interest.  Hundreds of reported cases have looked at a wide range of conflicts and considered guidelines.  Many of these cases, for example, involve bank employees, who enter into deals with clients outside of bank auspices.  There are many other examples as well in other workplaces.

Here are few key points that both employers and employees should consider in conflict of interest cases:

1.  Employer Policy:  Employers should certainly have detailed conflict of interest policies in place that spell out expectations with respect to gifts, private activities with clients and other related matters.  Employees should be provided with these policies when they first commence employment.

2.  Disclosure:  Employees who would like to run a private business that might be viewed as a conflict are well advised to ensure that they have employer approval for their activities.  It may make sense to get legal advice first but, ultimately, full disclosure to an employer of the type of business activities that the employee intends to operate, coupled with explicit or, at least, tacit approval from the employer can have a prophylactic effect.  Having a paper record of these disclosure, even in email form, can be crucial.

3.  Honesty and Legality:  Even if the employer is aware of the activities, that does not give an employee carte blanche.  If the employee’s business veers into the realm of illegal activities or activities that otherwise create exposure for the employer, the employer may still have grounds to terminate employment for cause, even if some of the activities were disclosed initially.  In the CBC case, if the CBC were able to prove that any of Mr. Solomon’s activities were actually illegal (for example, earning a secret commission or tax evasion), this could put Mr. Solomon in a very difficult spot.  At this point, there is certainly no basis for believing that Mr. Solomon was involved in anything in this category.

As with the situation involving Mr. Ghomeshi, it will be fascinating to follow this case and see the ultimate outcome.  If a confidential deal is reached between Mr. Solomon and the CBC, Canadians may never really find out how the situation was resolved.  For now,  it certainly looks as though Mr. Solomon will require the services of an entirely different type of broker to arrange for a settlement that may well be worth far more than many of the pieces of art that he was allegedly involved in trading.

 

 

Fired for Off-Duty Conduct: Should that hold up?

Can inappropriate off-duty conduct be used by an employer to dismiss an employee for just cause?  The answer is far from clear.

By now, you have probably read about or seen a video of the incident at BMO field.  A CityNews reporter was heckled with the obscene phrase “FHRITP” by a guy looking to grab some attention and get himself on the news.  One of the guys with him defended the vulgarity and expanded on it.  The reporter, Shauna Hunt, fired back.  She professionally pushed these guys, on air, to explain why they would act in such demeaning fashion towards a female reporter.  This was not the first time she had been faced with this harassment and she decided to push back.  The video made its way through cyberspace.  Shortly afterwards, HydroOne fired one of the guys involved in the incident.  Here is the video of the incident.

I am not looking to defend the behaviour of these louts.  There should be little societal tolerance for those who wish to attack and delegitimize women reporters by yelling obscene sexual phrases at them.  Perhaps a complaint could be filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission and damages could be awarded.  Maybe some type of civil lawsuit would be appropriate.  Or perhaps there are other avenues for dealing with this.

But the question in an employment law blog – is whether this justifies the loss of employment for the obscene heckler and his off-duty conduct.  Even though this happened after a soccer match rather than a basketball game, The answer is still no slam dunk.

If these individuals had been employees of MLSE, for example, and had yelled out these phrases, on air, at an MLSE event, the connection would be clear.  They would have been acting as representative employees of MLSE and there would have been little doubt that dismissal would be the appropriate remedy.  Or if they had been fellow reporters, at the scene while conducting other interviews.

But the guy who was fired was an employee of HydroOne which had nothing to do with this incident.  So the individual was fired for off-duty, obscene conduct, which had no connection to his employment.  He was not charged.  The public would not have associated him with HydroOne, unless he was in a position in which he would regularly deal with public.  If for example, he was in a customer relations position at HydroOne, or a human resources role, the case might be a bit different.

HydroOne has stated that this was a violation of their “Code of Conduct.”  It is certainly admirable of the company to take a strong stand against sexual harassment in the workplace and in society in general.  It is understandable and legally supportable that HydroOne would take steps to ensure that nothing like this occurs in its workplace or in connection with its workplaces.

But off-duty conduct that violates a “code of conduct?”  What are the limits of that code?  Lots of activities might be violations.  Does an employer have the right to follow employees around, off hours, and check up on whether their off-duty activities may or may not violate a code of conduct?  Will HydroOne send representatives to its employees’ private, off-duty parties to monitor what happens once their employees have a few drinks?  Will HydroOne start firing employees for behaviour at their kids’ hockey games, where many parents yell all kinds of obscene things?  Where is the line?

In response, HydroOne might say that they did not need to follow anyone anywhere nor do they intend to do so.   This incident simply became so public that the association with HydroOne caused public embarrassment – to the employee and to the employer.  HydroOne had to act to send a public message that it takes sexual harassment seriously.

While I can certainly understand the embarrassment to the employee, I’m just not sure that anyone would have drawn a tie in between the employee and HydroOne if HydroOne had not identified the protagonist as a HydroOne worker.

If the employee was in a non-unionized position, the issue would simply be whether or not there was “just cause” for terminating his employment.  He would probably bring a wrongful dismissal lawsuit – and there is a reasonable likelihood that a settlement would be reached at some point, though it would be confidential.  But he would not get his job back and he would have few other remedies, aside from some compensation for the loss of his position.  If he could show that HydroOne’s conduct had violated the Ontario Human Rights Code in some way or if he could convince a judge that this was “bad faith” conduct, he might get additional damages.  But that seems like a stretch.  If successful, he would probably wind up with a decent severance package, perhaps in the range of one month per year worked.

On the other hand, if the employee was unionized, he could file a grievance and ask to be reinstated to his position.  He could argue that some action short of dismissal would have been appropriate.  A public apology, a short suspension or some other disciplinary measures.  Or perhaps, even, none at all.  An adjudicator will have to decide whether the employment relationship became so damaged that he could no longer continue as an employee.

In either case, the employer will argue that the employee’s very public behaviour was a violation of its code of conduct and caused the employer public embarrassment.  The employer had to make it clear that sexual harassment, by its employees, while not be tolerated even if the incidents in question involve off-duty conduct.

I have to conclude that this could be a frightening precedent.  Not because I am trying to defend this guy’s conduct, which I am certainly not.  But because I would have concerns about the extent to which a person’s unrelated off-duty conduct, even if reprehensible, can lead to termination of employment in a position that has nothing to do with the conduct.  If it is conduct for which someone is criminally charged – and perhaps even convicted, that becomes a different story.  Or if the conduct is somehow related to the type of position.  For example, if this guy had been a teacher.  One can easily see that parents would be wary of having their children taught by a teacher who conducts himself in this fashion.

But if the type of employment has no relationship whatsoever to the type of incident, the link becomes far more questionable.

We have already seen stories of employers scouring the Facebook pages of potential employees and even asking for Facebook passwords to be able to gather information about job candidates.   It has become clear that no conduct, these days, is truly private when everyone is equipped with a cell phone with a video camera and the ability to instantly upload movies.  But are there any limits as to how employers and potential employers can use all of this information and media?  This is probably an area of law that will continue to develop, quite rapidly.  But the incident does emphasize the point that any inappropriate conduct can become public extremely quickly.  Certainly police offers across Canada and the U.S. have been learning that lesson.

Maybe it is ultimately beneficial for society that people can suffer significant consequences for highly inappropriate behaviour.  Such behaviour might include public instances of harassment, racism, anti-Semitism and other demeaning behaviour.  But I’m just not sure that summary dismissal with no compensation, the “capital punishment of employment law” and being left without a job or an income is the correct remedy here.

It will be interesting to hear what Canadian courts have to say about this.  We will have to watch and see how this case develops.

Quick Justice? Bring a Summary Judgment Motion

The use of the summary judgment process is becoming more and more widespread in wrongful dismissal cases.

In this post, I look at three recent decisions to show how useful this process can be for plaintiffs.  The conclusion is that it is getting more difficult for employers to drag their feet and lowball their dismissed employees in non-cause wrongful dismissal cases.  Employees faced with low, out of the range offers can use the summary judgment process to get a fairly quick judgment with minimal risk.

In Beatty v. Best Theratronics Ltd., (2015) ONCA 247, the court upheld a 16 month notice period for a radiation safety officer.  Clifford Beatty was 58 years old when he was dismissed.  He had worked for the employer for a period of 16 years.  In a summary judgment motion, he was awarded 16 months’ notice by an Ontario Superior Court judge.  The defendant appealed the decision and tried to argue that the appropriate notice period was only 12 weeks.  Not surprisingly, this seems to have angered the appellate court panel which sided, quite firmly, on behalf of the plaintiff.  The defendant might have attracted a bit more court sympathy if it had put forward a reasonable alternate notice period – perhaps 10 or 12 months.  But there was no basis, on the record, for proposing 12 weeks.  The defendant also argued that the plaintiff had failed to apply for a sufficient number of positions over the course of the notice period.  This submission was also rejected by the court, which upheld the trial court’s decision that the plaintiff had conducted a “reasonable” job search.  The court also, once again, noted that there were no real credibility or factual issues that would have required a trial rather than the use of a summary judgment process.  The appeal was dismissed with a costs award of $16,500.  This certainly looks like a reasonable victory for the dismissed employee.

In Maxwell v. United Rentals of Canada Inc. (2015) ONSC 2580, the summary judgment process was used by a service manager who had worked for his employer for 31 years.  Kevin Maxwell was 51 years old when he was dismissed on a without cause basis.  He was earning an annual salary of approximately $64,700 but with bonuses and other amounts his annual income came to $81,100.  The case went to a summary judgment motion.  The plaintiff asked for 20 months’ compensation.  The defendant proposed that 16 months should be the proper number.  The court awarded 18 months’ compensation.  A key issue seems to have been the annual figure to be used.  The defendant argued that the plaintiff’s base salary should be the appropriate figure.  The court chose to use the plaintiff’s T4 amount, which included bonuses and other amounts.  This represented the plaintiff’s earnings more closely.  The court also rejected the defendant’s arguments that the plaintiff had failed to mitigate damages properly by applying to 120 jobs.  The court specifically noted that the defendant had not provided any assistance and this “is an important factor to be taken into consideration when the employer then accuses the former employee of not taking adequate steps to secure alternate employment.”  While this decision highlights the fact that dismissed employees are entitled to be paid on the basis of their full annual income rather than base pay alone, the notice period awarded to the plaintiff was probably low.

In another recent decision, one of the key issues was how the money should be paid.  In Markoukis v. SNC-Lavalin Inc. (2015) ONSC 1081, the dismissed employee had worked for the defendant for almost 41 years.  Eftihios Markoulakis was 65 at the time of dismissal and was a senior civil engineer.  He was paid out 34 weeks’ pay, based on the Ontario Employment Standards Act minimums for notice and severance pay.  He sued his employer and asked for 30 months’ notice.

The trial court judge agreed that there were exceptional factors here including the almost 41 years of service that the plaintiff had under his belt.  She ordered a notice period of 27 months.  However, the motion was heard only 31 weeks after the plaintiff was dismissed.  It would be unfair to order the defendant to pay the full 27 months’ compensation when the parties were only in month 8.  The defendant would be entitled to credit if the plaintiff were to earn any other money or find alternate employment.  The court held that the defendant would be required to pay the plaintiff monthly until the end of the 27 month notice period.  The court held that the defendant reserved the right, during the notice period, to bring a motion challenging the plaintiff’s mitigation efforts or dealing with other issues that might be arise.  While the plaintiff won an extraordinarily lengthy notice period, he will have to continue to report to the defendant about his mitigation efforts for the balance of the notice period.  So this was not a “no strings attached” victory.

Looking at all three cases together, it is quite evident that summary judgment motions are one of the most appropriate ways of dealing with wrongful dismissal cases, where no cause is alleged.  They are relatively inexpensive, relatively quick and quite difficult to defeat.

The best approach for employers defending these motions is to take a reasonable approach to damages.  Employers that show up in court and put forward extremely low suggested notice periods are likely to find that the plaintiff has won everything that he or she requested.  On the other hand, where the defendant puts forward a reasonable notice period, as in the Maxwell case, the court might be more inclined to view the employer more favourably.

For dismissed employees, as in all wrongful dismissal cases, it is very important to prepare a detailed and reasonable record of job search and other mitigation efforts.  Although the standard is not an extremely onerous one, employees must be able to show that they have made reasonable efforts to try and find alternate employment or an alternate comparable income source.  If the dismissal was “without cause” and the dismissed employee is making reasonable efforts to find new employment, the summary judgment process can be invaluable.

 

 

 

Just Cause for Dismissal: Is One Incident Enough?

Is one incident of dishonesty just cause for dismissal?  What if it involves a long-serving employee?  This was the issue that was decided recently by the B.C. Court of Appeal in  Steel v. Coast Capital Savings Credit Union.  

The plaintiff, Susan Steel, was a help desk analyst.  She had been employed by the Credit Union for 21 years.  In 2008, the plaintiff accessed the personal folder of a manager.  The manager kept a folder for assigning parking spaces and the plaintiff wanted to check her status.  She was caught because the manager was accessing the folder at the very same time.  She was confronted and admitted her misconduct.  She also acknowledged that she did not have authorization.

At trial, the judge reviewed the case law, focusing on the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark decision in McKinley v. B.C. Tel (2001) SCC 38. The court dismissed the case and found that Ms Steel had been dismissed for just cause.  The plaintiff appealed to the B.C. Court of Appeal.

By a 2-1 majority decision, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the trial court decision and dismissed the appeal.  As the Court of Appeal put it, “McKinley requires courts to apply a contextual analysis to determine whether employee misconduct amounts to just cause for dismissal….Following McKinley, a single act of dishonesty as a matter of law no longer gives an employer an absolute right to dismissal its employee.”

However, the Court of Appeal also noted that “a single act of misconduct can justify dismissal if the misconduct is of a sufficient character to cause the irreparable breakdown of the employment relationship.”

The majority of the court held that a breach of privacy was such a fundamental obligation in this type of employment position that the plaintiff’s action could be seen as causing a “fundamental breakdown of the employment relationship.”

In dissenting reasons, Justice Donald included this sentence:  “What is absent from the trial judge’s reasons is an explanation why a single instance of a breach of the privacy rules should end a 21 year career….The record does not show deceit, fraud, theft or stealth.  The misconduct was serious, as the judge found, but her analysis of the proportionality of the penalty left out a vital factor.”  Justice Donald would have allowed the appeal and remitted the case to the trial judge for an assessment of damages.

The McKinley decision has been cited many times and has been interpreted in different ways.  In some cases, it has been used to help dismissed plaintiffs obtain damages where many people might find the results to be puzzling and overly sympathetic.  In other cases, courts have limited the application of McKinley to minor or more limited instances of dishonesty or misconduct.

Ultimately, each judge applies his or own sense of “proportion” and reasonableness.  Here two appellate court judges held that one instance of this type of dishonesty was cause for dismissal, whereas one judge disagreed.

For plaintiffs and for employers these are risky cases.  They are fact driven.  But they also depend on sensibilities of the particular judge hearing the case as well as the appellate court panel that might hear the case if it is appealed.

For Susan Steel, this was a very costly and time consuming ordeal.  The Court of Appeal decision was released in 2015, some seven years after Ms Steel was dismissed.  Ultimately, she has been awarded nothing after 21 years of employment and may well have incurred significant legal fees.  The case is a reminder of the high stakes of pursuing just cause litigation where an undisputed instance of improper conduct is involved.

 

Use of Summary Judgment Motions in Dismissal Cases

What are summary judgment motions?  Are they effective in wrongful dismissal cases?  A recent decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal in Arnone v. Best Theratronics Ltd. has provided some helpful guidance for those who would like to use this process.

A summary judgment is a motion for judgment that bypasses the need for a trial.  It can be used where there is no “genuine issue” that requires a trial.  It can often allow parties to save time and legal costs and has been used quite often in Ontario more recently in non-cause wrongful dismissal cases.

The case involved a 53 year old employee who was dismissed without cause after 31 years.  After the parties could not come to a mutually agreeable severance arrangement, the employee sued for wrongful dismissal.  Rather than proceed to a trial, he brought a summary judgment motion in the Ontario Superior Court.  Although this process allows parties to bypass some of the more expensive procedures in other litigation cases, including extensive examinations for discovery, motions and a trial, it can still be a costly process.  Here there were cross examinations on affidavits filed in preparation for the summary judgment.

The motions judge hearing the case initially made a number of findings and awards that were challenged on appeal to the Court of Appeal.  For purposes of this note, I wanted to highlight some key findings of the Court of Appeal, which are relevant and helpful to future litigants.

1.  Summary Judgment is a Great Process for Without Cause Wrongful Dismissal Cases

The Court of Appeal had little trouble concluding that there were no “genuine issues requiring a trial.”  It noted that “a straight-forward claim for wrongful dismissal without cause, such as the present one, strikes me as the type of case usually amenable to a Rule 20 summary judgment motion.”  The defendant tried to resist the motion by arguing that it was unclear whether the plaintiff was a customer service specialist or a manager.  The defendant argued that this issue required a trial.  The Court of Appeal held that there was no issue requiring a trial.  It also noted that, in any event, “character of employment” is a “factor of declining importance.”  In other words, the factors that are far more important to consider include a dismissed employee’s age and length of service rather than the actual position that the person held.

2. Reasonable Notice

The motions judge awarded the plaintiff a notice period of 16.8 months since that was the amount of time that the plaintiff needed to bridge his pension.  The Court held that this was an incorrect approach.  However, the Court increased the notice period to 22 months, upholding the alternate finding that the motions judge had made.  The defendant argued at the Court of Appeal that the notice period should have been 14.4 weeks.  This position was roundly rejected and the Court of Appeal held that 22 months was “within the acceptable range of notice periods for employees in circumstances similar to the plaintiff.”

3.  What About Mitigation?

The Court of Appeal confirmed that any money earned by a dismissed employee during the applicable notice period is to be deducted from the amount that the employer is ordered to pay for the applicable notice period.  There is little new here as this is a statement of well settled law.   If the plaintiff starts earning a higher income during the applicable notice period, this decision suggests that the plaintiff could actually lose money by having a longer notice period.  However, the notice period in this case ensured a full pension for the plaintiff.

4.  Pension Benefits

Dismissed employees are entitled to the “present value of the loss of pension benefits during the notice period.”  This calculations should be performed by an actuary.  In this case, the assessment of $65,000 as the pension loss by an expert actuary was not challenged.

There were two other issues in this case that are less commonly contested.  The plaintiff was awarded a “retiring allowance of 30 weeks’ pay” based on a company policy that provided a retiring allowance of one week’s pay per year to retiring employees.  The court held that the “retiring allowance” policy did not clearly exempt dismissed employees from receiving the retiring allowance.  This allowance was payable in addition to the other wrongful dismissal damages.

It is also worth noting that the motions court made a cost award of $52,280 on this summary judgment motion.  The cost award was challenged by the plaintiff, who had apparently made an official “Offer to Settle” before the motion that was not seen by the motions court judge after the issue of liability was determined.  The plaintiff wanted to argue that he would be entitled to costs on a higher scale as a result of having submitted valid offers to settle before the motion.  Moreover, there would still be further costs to be awarded as a result of this appeal.  The Court of Appeal agreed that the issue of costs should be reexamined in light of the offers.

The end result is that this was certainly not an inexpensive summary judgment motion.  While it is true that the parties avoided many days of trial, there were still affidavits, cross examinations and submissions.  Nevertheless, the process seems to have worked out quite well for the plaintiff, on paper at least, who was ultimately awarded 22 months’ pay less any amounts earned during that period, a retiring allowance equal to 30 weeks’ pay, pension damages of $65,000 and a significant costs award.

Plaintiffs who have been dismissed without cause and provided with a low ball offer may be well advised to consider a summary judgment motion as the best way to advance a wrongful dismissal claim through the legal process.

 

 

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