In the recent Ontario case of Piresferreira v. Ayotte and
Bell Mobility Inc.,1 the court awarded more than
$500,000 to an employee who was abused by her supervisor. The
employer, Bell Mobility, was also held to be vicariously liable for
the supervisor's actions.
The employee, Marta Piresferreira ("Piresferreira"),
had worked for Bell Mobility since 1996 as an account manager. In
1997, she came under the supervision of Richard Ayotte
("Ayotte"). From 1996 to 2003, Piresferreira received
excellent performance reviews and was awarded with bonuses and
trips. In 2004, Piresferreira encountered significant difficulties,
missing a number of her financial objectives. All of these problems
were a result of external factors beyond Piresferreira's
control, which she attempted to explain to Ayotte. According to
Ayotte, he tried to make suggestions as to how Piresferreira could
improve but she was not receptive.
Ayotte was an intimidating supervisor, and was prone to yelling,
swearing and banging his fist on the table. By 2004, Piresferreira
tried to avoid Ayotte as much as possible as he was regularly
abusive and questioned her competence.
On May 12, 2005, things came to a head. Piresferreira was
berated for having failed to successfully arrange a meeting. In
front of another employee, Ayotte yelled and swore at her, stating
she was not doing her job. Piresferreira apologized and left. That
same day Piresferreira ran into Ayotte and he raised his voice to
her again. He told her he was successful in arranging the meeting
and asked her why she could not do the same. Piresferreira
repeatedly attempted to show Ayotte an email on her blackberry as
proof that she did everything she could to arrange the meeting.
Ayotte was disinterested and pushed Piresferreira on her left
shoulder, telling her to get away from him. She was pushed
approximately a foot and had to balance herself against a filing
Immediately following the incident, Ayotte threatened to issue a
performance improvement plan ("PIP") and did so shortly
thereafter. Piresferreira reported the assault to her Human
Resources representative. Ayotte received a minor disciplinary
reproach. However, Ayotte and Bell Mobility moved immediately to
impose the PIP, including an onerous schedule of frequent meetings
with Ayotte. Piresferreira went on sick leave and then long-term
disability due to the depression and anxiety that she experienced
after these events. She never returned to work. She was eventually
diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The court held that Ayotte's action in pushing Piresferreira
constituted assault and battery. The court also noted that she
never received an apology from Ayotte nor Bell Mobility. Bell
Mobility was held to be vicariously liable for everything that had
occurred, the court finding as follows:
Bell Mobility set up a reporting arrangement whereby its
information regarding the account managers' work, Ayotte's
relationship with the account managers, and the environment at the
Ottawa office, all came from Ayotte... In entrusting this level of
control to Ayotte, Bell Mobility had to assume responsibility for
how Ayotte managed the Ottawa office and dealt with the personnel
there. The fact that Ayotte's verbal abuse and physical assault
of Piresferreira was an improper way for Ayotte to be managing,
supervising or disciplining Piresferreira does not relieve Bell
Mobility from vicarious liability for the assault and battery. Bell
Mobility entrusted the supervisory role to Ayotte and is
responsible when Ayotte did not handle that role properly.
Piresferreira was awarded damages for assault and battery,
intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, mental
suffering, and psycho-traumatic disability in the amount of
$45,000, loss of past and future income in the amount of $450,832,
and special damages in the amount of $5,123. The court would have
also awarded damages for constructive dismissal had she not
recovered under her tort claims. However, awarding damages under
both tort and contract claims would have amounted to double
The Court has clearly signalled that an employer may be held
responsible for permitting an employee with an abusive management
style to remain in a position of authority.
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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