Canada: La clause de non-dénigrement : la réputation de l'employeur doit prévaloir, rappelle la Cour Supérieure

Le 9 octobre 2018, la Cour Supérieure du Québec a rendu sa décision dans une affaire impliquant un employeur « Employeur » ainsi que son président « Président » dans le cadre d’un recours contre une ex-employée « Ex-Employée » en raison de commentaires négatifs publiés anonymement sur le site RateMyEmployer.ca1

Le tribunal est d’ailleurs venu confirmer la validité de la renonciation à la liberté d’expression qu’implique la signature d’une clause de non-dénigrement. De plus, on y voit ici une bonne illustration des conséquences auxquelles un(e) employé(e) s’expose en cas de violation d’une telle clause. En effet, dans l’affaire en question, l’Ex-Employée fut condamnée à verser la somme de 10 000 $ à titre compensatoire pour le préjudice moral causé à l’Employeur ainsi qu’une somme de 1 000 $ à titre de dommages exemplaires.

Contexte

Dans cette affaire, le poste de l’Ex-Employée fut aboli et concurremment, les parties ont signé une quittance prévoyant le paiement d’une indemnité de départ à l’Ex-Employée en contrepartie d’une série d’obligations, incluant notamment un engagement de non-dénigrement. En d’autres mots, il s’agit d’une clause aux termes de laquelle l’Ex-Employée s’engage à ne pas faire de commentaires négatifs ou dénigrants à propos de l’Employeur.

Par la suite, la preuve a démontré que l’Ex-Employée a sciemment publié en ligne de l’information négative, exagérée, fausse, non fondée, déformée et exagérée envers l’Employeur.

Décision

L’obligation contractuelle de confidentialité et de non-dénigrement

La Cour Supérieure aborde d’abord l’angle de la violation des obligations contenues à cette dite quittance en rappelant que le devoir de loyauté englobe la protection de la réputation de l’employeur. Tout d’abord, bien qu’une telle clause emporte une renonciation partielle du droit à la liberté d’expression et d’opinion protégé par l’article 3 de la Charte des droits et libertés de la personne « Charte  », la juge refuse d’y voir là un motif de non-applicabilité. En effet, le tribunal rappelle qu’il est possible de renoncer à un droit protégé par la Charte à certaines conditions. À des fins de précisions, la Cour s’exprime comme suit sur le sujet :

[31]Qui plus est, pour apprécier la légitimité de la renonciation, les facteurs suivants se trouvent généralement pris en compte : (1) la nature du droit ou de la liberté en cause; (2) la possibilité, pour le demandeur de renoncer à ce droit ou à cette liberté; (3) la manière selon laquelle le demandeur y a renoncé; (4) la mesure dans laquelle le demandeur pouvait y renoncer; et (5) l’effet de la renonciation. Pour être valable, la renonciation doit être claire, non équivoque, éclairée, libre et volontaire.

De l’avis du tribunal, après analyse, il est effectivement permis de renoncer à la liberté d’expression et d’opinion dans ce cadre. C’est donc dire que les propos négatifs et dénigrants, voire faux et diffamatoires à l’endroit de l’Employeur constituent une faute contractuelle.

La diffamation

Tel qu’il appert de ce qui précède, la Cour aborde cette affaire sous le régime de la responsabilité contractuelle. Ceci dit, bien que l’article 1458 du Code civil du Québec interdit le cumul et les conclusions alternatives et consacre la primauté des règles de responsabilité contractuelle lorsqu’un contrat existe ou est allégué, une analyse sous l’angle de la diffamation en matière extracontractuelle est aussi effectuée de manière subsidiaire et en raison du fait que le recours du Président ne peut être qu’extracontractuel.

En ce qui concerne le recours de l’Employeur, bien que la juge ait déjà admis que le comportement de l’Ex-Employée constituait une faute contractuelle, cette dernière effectue aussi l’analyse sous l’angle de la diffamation. En raison de la présentation erronée et tendancieuse des faits, les commentaires de l’Ex-Employée s’écartaient de la norme de comportement qu’adopterait une personne raisonnable dans les circonstances. Cela constitue donc une atteinte fautive à la réputation de l’Employeur.

Les Dommages

Bien que la Cour Supérieure reconnaisse que ce type de comportement constitue une faute, tant d’un point de vue contractuel qu’extracontractuel, il est à noter que l’octroi de dommages compensatoires se fait toutefois avec parcimonie. En effet, l’affaire en question illustre bien qu’il s’avère très difficile de faire la preuve de pertes pécuniaires liées à ces types de commentaires. Il faut donc se rabattre sur les dommages moraux. À cet effet, le tribunal rappelle les enseignements de la Cour d’appel dans l’arrêt Boyle c. Loto-Québec à l’effet qu’il n’est pas nécessaire de démontrer quelque perte monétaire que ce soit sous ce chef. Ce même tribunal est aussi venu établir une fourchette de paiement de 10 000 $ à 30 000 $ en cas d’atteinte à la réputation d’une personne morale. Dans l’affaire qui nous intéresse, après une analyse jurisprudentielle et la pondération des critères afférents, la Cour est venue octroyer 10 000 $ à titre de dommages moraux, soit la limite inférieure de la fourchette jurisprudentielle.

MISE EN GARDE : Cette publication a pour but de donner des renseignements généraux sur des questions et des nouveautés d’ordre juridique à la date indiquée. Les renseignements en cause ne sont pas des avis juridiques et ne doivent pas être traités ni invoqués comme tels. Veuillez lire notre mise en garde dans son intégralité au www.stikeman.com/avis-juridique.

Footnotes

1 2018 QCCS 4374

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