How difficult is it for employers to prove just cause for dismissal in Ontario? The recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court in Ludchen v. Stelcrete Industries Ltd. demonstrates, yet again, that the bar is set very high.
Richard Ludchen was a plant superintendent working for the defendant Stelcrete Industries, which is a precast concrete company. Ludchen had worked for the defendant for 11 years and was earning an annual income of $61,000 at the time of dismissal. He had a clean disciplinary record.
In 2008, the company made a decision not to recognize Ontario “Family Day” as a day off but to pay employees for an extra day of holiday time in December instead. In reaction to this announcement, the plaintiff allegedly made some very offensive anti-Semitic remarks about the owners of the company who were Jewish. The company investigated, determined that the remarks had been made and fired Ludchen for cause. Ludchen sued for wronful dismissal.
At trial, the judge accepted that, if the company could prove that the remarks had been made, this would have constituted just cause for dismissal. The court also found that the credibility of the plaintiff was questionable and did not ring true. However, the court was even more dismissive of the evidence presented by the primary company witness, which it rejected completely. The company relied on the evidence of its investigator and did not call to the witness stand anyone who actually heard the offensive remarks being made.
Accordingly, the court concluded that the company had failed to prove that the remarks had actually been made. The court held that Ludchen had been wrongfully dismissed and awarded him 12 months of wrongful dismissal damages, together with compensation for the loss of benefits and his average annual bonus. The court rejected Ludchen’s request for any kind of additional punitive, aggravated or other damages.
The Ludchen v. Stelcrete Industries decision shows that the onus is squarely on the employers to prove all of the aspects of a just cause case. Even if the alleged misconduct is very serious and the employee’s denial or explanation does not ring true, the employer must still prove its case clearly.
For dismissed employees, the case is further assurance to plaintiffs and their legal counsel that serious cause allegations do not always hold up in court, even where it appears likely that the misconduct may have occurred.