A recent Ontario case has awarded the plaintiff employee the sum of $200,000 in punitive damages and a further sum of $100,000 in aggravated damages or damages for emotional distress. He was also awarded an agreed severance payment of roughly $71,000 representing 6 months salary. The latter sum was not in contention.
The plaintiff, holding the position of Chief Building Officer with a municipality, prior to his termination had started a private design company, with the full knowledge of his employer. The judge at trial found that he was also allowed to conduct inspections on buildings which he, himself, had designed. This would certainly be a conflict of interest in most cases, but here the employer had agreed to this so it could not be used as grounds for just cause.
The real question which led to the controversy was whether the plaintiff had hidden from his employer his involvement on two particular buildings which he had designed and inspected.
Not only was this issue decided against the employer, the Court also was of the view that certain employees in the City had “set up” evidence to entrap the plaintiff.
The manner of termination was particularly distasteful. The plaintiff had been asked to attend a meeting for a reason unknown to him, to receive a prepared termination letter and the police. He was then interrogated by the employer, and was then the subject of a misleading press release which incorrectly suggested that the plaintiff was barred from designing buildings in the local township.
The facts in this case were particularly unattractive which led to the punitive and aggravated award. Not every case should embrace this expectation but when the facts are severe, so may be the award. Punitive damages are intended to punish for reckless and malicious behaviour. This award of $200,000 is certainly towards the upper end.
Aggravated damages require an underpinning of bad faith conduct and are intended to serve as compensation for injured feelings.
In either case, an employment contract defining the severance sum will have no impact on these claims.
Get Advice and Know Your Rights
This case is a good example of when and how these incremental damages may be awarded. Get advice. Know your rights. Contact the offices of Guelph employment lawyer Peter McSherry. We can guide you through the issues, help you understand your rights, and defend your position. Contact us online or by phone at 519-821-5465 to schedule a consultation