Dismissed employees and their legal counsel continue to push the envelope in Ontario by using jury trials to obtain large damages awards. Even though these awards are usually scaled back by the Ontario Court of Appeal or by the Canadian Supreme Court, the wrongful dismissal landscape in Canada is beginning to shift noticeably.
In the latest example, the plaintiff, Meredith Boucher of Windsor, Ontario, was awarded $1.4 million by an Ontario jury.
Ms Boucher had brought a case for constructive dismissal. She had alleged that she had been forced to leave Walmart after being subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional suffering and other misconduct including actual physical assault.
Among other allegations, Ms Boucher had claimed that she was called a “(expletive)” idiot and that she was forced to count skids in front of others to prove that she knew how to count.
The jury of three men and three women took only 2 1/2 hours to make its decision after a two and a half week trial. Although the jury did not award any damages for sexual harassment or discrimination, it awarded $200,000 for intentional infliction of emotional suffering, $1 million for punitive damages and $10,000 for assault. The jury also made an award of $250,000 against the assistant manager.
Walmart will certainly appeal and it is likely that the award will be scaled back considerably, given Canadian legal precedents. However, this type of award and the publicity that it attracts will cause dismissed employees across the country to reconsider their lawsuits and to reevaluate the potential damages that they might receive if they take their cases to trial.
It is worth remembering that these types of awards are only made in cases involving extremely inappropriate conduct. Fortunately, for Canadian employers and employees, these types of allegations are absent in most Canadian wrongful dismissal cases.