Are large punitive damages awards in wrongful dismissal coming
back? Looking at the trial court's decision in the
case of Pate v. Galway-Cavendish and Harvey
(Townships), which is currently under appeal, one wonders.
Mr. Pate was a 9+ year employee at the Townships, who was
terminated for cause due to his alleged non-remittance of building
permit fees. When he refused to resign (after being given no
details of the allegations against him), he was dismissed and the
matter was reported to the police. In part due to the
allegations against him and the ensuing criminal trial, Mr.
Pate's marriage and his side business with his wife both
failed. In addition, he was unable to re-establish a career
as a municipal official.
Mr. Pate was subsequently acquitted, and it was determined by
the trial judge that the employer had failed to disclose
key information to the Crown which would have resulted in no
charges having been laid in the first place. The trial judge
felt that the employer's conduct merited relief in the form of
a punitive damages award, due to the fact that damages for wrongful
dismissal could not adequately address the fact that Mr. Pate's
career was effectively destroyed due to the allegations.
However due to the principle of proportionality, the trial judge
awarded Mr. Pate only $25,000 in punitive damages. The
Ontario Court of Appeal subsequently overturned that decision and
ordered that a new trial be conducted with respect to the quantum
of punitive damages and another issue.
With reference to the damage caused to Mr. Pate as well
as the fact that both the criminal proceedings and the
wrongful dismissal trial took years to be dealt with, on the second
time around the trial judge took full advantage of the Court of
Appeal's open invitation to punish the employer for its
conduct, and increased the punitive damages award from $25,000 to
While the matter is under appeal once again and it may be that
the $550,000 was excessive, the Court of Appeal's unusual
invitation to the trial judge to reassess punitive damages at a
higher amount makes it clear that our province's highest court
is not averse to punishing employers whose conduct
is deserving of signficant punishment.
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