On October 10, 2012, a jury awarded a former Wal-Mart employee
over $1.4 million dollars in damages. The jury found that the
employee was constructively dismissed due to an abusive work
environment at the Windsor Wal-Mart store. This is the largest such
award in Canadian history and, as expected, will be appealed by
Summary of the Claim
Although the case is not publicly available, we can glean some
facts from media reports and the Statement of Claim.
Meredith Boucher was an assistant manager at a Wal-Mart in
Windsor, Ontario with nine years service. She alleged abuse by the
store manager, including being forced to count skids in front of
other employees to prove she could count; being punched in her arm
twice by a fellow assistant manager; and being called a
Boucher claimed constructive dismissal when she resigned because
of this abusive work environment and that she was therefore
constructively dismissed. She also claimed sexual harassment and
discrimination, intentional infliction of mental suffering and
This is another of the rare, but recent, jury cases in
employment litigation. Like the jury in a recent case in Prince
George that we reported on (see the
post), the jury accepted the employee's claims. But the
damages were even higher.
The jury awarded $1.46 million:
$200,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering
$1 million for punitive damages
$10,000 for assault
Against the manager personally:
$100,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering
$150,000 for punitive damages
Wal-Mart has appealed the jury's verdict to the Ontario
Court of Appeal, calling it "shockingly unreasonable."
Appellate courts generally pay considerable deference to juries on
findings of fact. However, as recently evidenced by the Supreme
Court of Canada's decision in Honda v. Keays, appellate courts are more likely to
intervene to reduce damages awards, especially punitive damages
Although we have limited details because the decision is not
publicly available, this case is nonetheless a striking example of
the potential liability that can arise in situations of workplace
harassment/bullying or where serious abuses are found against a
manager. In BC in particular, we have to be concerned about how
these cases will influence decisions under the Bill 14 amendments
to the Workers Compensation Act about which we have
Employers should be vigilant in enforcing respectful workplace
policies and providing employee training. Employers should also be
quick to investigate any potential complaints so that workplace
conflicts can be quickly addressed and neutralized and actions for
constructive dismissal and related claims can be avoided.
We will monitor the progress of this case at appeal.
Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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