In a cautionary tale for employers, a jury in Windsor, Ontario
awarded $1.4 million in damages to a former Wal-Mart employee who
alleged that she had been constructively dismissed after being
subjected to intentional infliction of mental suffering by her
The jury award included $1.2 million in punitive damages and
damages for mental distress against the employer, and an additional
$250,000.00 in punitive damages and damages for mental distress
against the manager. The former employee established that the
manager had punched her on the arm on two occasions, and had
subjected her to profane and insulting mental abuse. Those
allegations were that the manager had called the employee "a
[expletive] idiot" in front of her co-workers, and that the
manager had made the former employee count skids in front of
co-workers in order to prove to him that she could accurately
The employer has already appealed the jury's verdict to the
Ontario Court of Appeal, calling the award "...wholly
disproportionate and/or shockingly unreasonable." This is not
surprising, given that this award would set a new high-water mark
for punitive damages in a wrongful dismissal case. (It appears that
the jury may have based its award roughly on the amount that the
former employee, who is currently 42 years of age, would have
earned had she remained employed in her position until age 65. This
figure had been raised by the former employee's counsel in his
closing submissions, although the trial judge had specifically
instructed the jury not to consider that figure.)
Although, in our view, it is likely that the jury award will be
set aside or reduced on appeal, this decision does underscore how
important it is for employers to have a clear policy against
incidents of workplace violence and harassment and to take prompt
action to address such incidents when potential allegations of this
nature come to light.
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