The idea of adding members of management as defendants in
wrongful dismissal cases against corporate employers is not a new
one. The case of Watson
v. TrojanOne Ltd.,Harrison and Lee is a
useful reminder of the current status of the law in this area.
In this case, the Plaintiff, Watson, sued his former employer,
TrojanOne, as well as two individuals named Harrison and Lee.
Harrison was TrojanOne's President and CEO and Lee was its
Chief Creative Officer.
The matter came before the court by way of a motion brought by
Harrison and Lee to have the action dismissed as against them on
the basis that Watson did not have the right to sue them
The judge summarized the law on the point by indicating that the
officers of a corporation are not liable personally for what they
do within their authority and on behalf of their corporation.
However, they may be liable in an action against the corporation if
there is some conduct on the part of the officer that is either
tortious in itself, or that amounts to misconduct that is
independent from that of the corporation.
Historically, this point has come up rather frequently in cases
in which a Plaintiff sues an officer of the corporate employer for
inducing the company to breach the contract of employment with the
Plaintiff by terminating the employment without reasonable
notice. It is clear in such cases that unless the officer can
be said to have acted in bad faith and against the company's
best interests, he or she cannot be sued for inducing breach of
contract where a claim for breach of contract is available against
As a result, for an officer of an employer company to be liable,
the claim against that individual must specifically identify the
cause of action that is asserted against the officer and explain
why he or she is being sued separately from the company.
It is to be kept in mind that this matter came before the court
as a procedural attack on the statement of claim as against
Harrison and Lee. The only question before the Court was as
to whether or not a case against those individuals had been
The statement of claim contained the usual pleadings as against
TrojanOne. With respect to both Harrison and Lee, it
contained a series of quotes allegedly attributable to each of
Harrison and Lee in which they are alleged to have made a variety
of degrading and humiliating statements to Watson and others.
Some of the statements even had racist overtones.
The Plaintiff's allegation was that this conduct created a
poisoned and hostile work environment causing the Plaintiff to
suffer from severe anxiety and depression for which he sought and
received medical treatment and therapy.
At some point, a public altercation took place in which the
Plaintiff was physically threatened and verbally abused. The
Plaintiff alleges that as a result, he had to stop work and take a
leave of absence immediately for medical reasons.
According to Watson's Statement of Claim, this all amounted
to constructive dismissal. Watson alleged that the conduct of
Harrison and Lee was flagrant and outrageous, they intended to harm
Watson or, at least, knew that their conduct would cause harm, and
Watson suffered a visible and provable illness. As a matter
of law, these are the elements of the tort of intentional
infliction of mental distress.
Accordingly, the Court concluded that Watson had adequately
pleaded that independent actionable wrongs had been committed by
Harrison and Lee. The case was permitted to proceed against them as
well as against TrojanOne.
It would seem to follow logically that where a member of
management is verbally abusive or conducts himself or herself in a
manner that creates a poisoned work environment, and that conduct
causes visible and measureable harm, that conduct will never be
considered to be in the best interests of the company and may well
serve as the basis of a claim against him or her personally.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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