Last week, the Ontario Court of Appeal issued its decision in the case of Meredith Boucher v. Wal-Mart Canada Corp and Jason Pinnock.
We discussed the jury award in this case in a previous blog. At that time, there was no written decision and we had only the news reports to inform us as to the amount and types of damages that the jury had awarded. The Court of Appeal's decision provides clarity on the actual damages awarded by the jury and the reasons why they were awarded.
Ms. Boucher was an assistant manager of a store. She had been a long time employee of Wal-Mart. She had worked at a number of other stores as she progressed through her career. Her last stop was Windsor where she reported to Mr. Pinnock, who was the store manager. The jury found that over the course of her time at the Windsor store Mr. Pinnock frequently verbally abused her, humiliated her in front of her colleagues and deliberately set out to cause her to quit her job. In the end, that is exactly what she did when she reached a point where his conduct was unbearable and was directly affecting her health.
In the course of the conduct by Mr. Pinnock, the jury also found that Ms. Boucher brought her concerns to the head office of Wal-Mart. They conducted an investigation that the jury found to be wanting. In the end, the jury concluded that the actions of Wal-Mart in response to her complaint further aggravated the situation.
The jury awarded Ms. Boucher damages against Wal-Mart for constructive dismissal of 20 weeks (as set out in her written employment agreement), $200,000 of aggravated damages and $1M of punitive damages. Against Mr. Pinnock, the jury awarded $100,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering and $150,000 for aggravated damages. Wal-Mart was considered vicariously liable for the damages against Mr. Pinnock.
The Court of Appeal reduced the aggravated and punitive damages as follows: against Pinnock $100,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering and $10,000 in punitive damages; against Wal-Mart $200,000 of aggravated damages and $100,000 of punitive damages. Wal-Mart was also liable to pay $140,000 in trial costs. Costs on the appeal have not yet been decided.
The liability of Wal-Mart is still quite substantial, and the matter may yet proceed to the Supreme Court. The case is a stern example of how seriously the courts (with or without a jury) will treat bullying and harassment by a manager and an employer's failure to effectively investigate and deal with such a situation. We note the striking similarity in the facts of this case to the recent decision of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal which we addressed in another blog. In one case, the employee sued the manager and employer and in the other (a unionized workplace) the employee brought a claim for benefits under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.
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