On October 10, 2012 a jury awarded Meredith Boucher, a former
Walmart employee, $1.46 million dollars for damages for wrongful
dismissal, intentional infliction of mental suffering and punitive
damages. The award granted was in excess of the amount
claimed by Ms. Boucher, and greatly exceeds prior wrongful
dismissal claim awards in Canada.
Ms. Boucher had amassed ten (10) years of service as a Walmart
employee when she quit in November 2009 due to alleged abuse by her
manager. The abuse continued for a period of six (6) months
and included, but was not limited to Ms. Boucher: being called
"stupid" on various occasions; being forced to count
skids in front of other Walmart employees to prove that she was
capable of counting; and being punched in the arm on two (2)
Ms. Boucher resigned and commenced an action for constructive
dismissal, alleging that the conduct of her manager left her with
no alternative but to resign her employment. The action proceeded
by way of jury trial, and Ms. Boucher was awarded a total of $1.46
million dollars, which consisted of:
$200,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering,
$10,000 for assault and $1,000,000 for punitive damages
from Walmart; and
$100,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering and
$150,000 for punitive damages from the manager
Counsel for Walmart has indicated an intention to appeal the
decision, calling the award "perverse" based on
precedents for wrongful dismissal damages.
While we anticipate that this case will be appealed and the
amount of damages may be reduced in a fashion similar to other
decisions with elevated mental distress and punitive damage awards,
employers should nonetheless ensure that their internal policies
and practices are clear regarding acceptable verbal and written
communications within their organization, and that any complaints
of inappropriate conduct are properly investigated and handled in a
timely manner. This case is another example of a significant
punitive damages award in a dismissal case, following on the
Pate Estate v. Galway-Cavendish decision which is also under
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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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