Court extends notice period for worker fired while pregnant

Ontario judge tacks on two months' pay because she was expecting, also adds <i>Wallace</i> damages for way termination was handled

A pregnant worker who was fired without cause was awarded 10 months’ notice, plus an additional two months because she was pregnant and a further two months in Wallace damages.

Lorna Harris worked in the wiring department of Yorkville Sound Limited until she was terminated in Fall 2003.
The Ontario Supreme Court of Justice, in ruling on her claim for damages, said it was “hard to pin down the precise cause” the company claimed was the reason for her termination. The company said Harris was loud and boisterous, didn’t get along with co-workers, told dirty jokes, had discussed wages of co-workers and was insubordinate to the company vice-president.

In September 2003 Harris was called before a discipline committee composed of members of management and two senior co-workers. Shortly after that meeting her employment was terminated.

The court said the “sudden leap to termination was utterly unjustified” and scolded Yorkville Sound for making a mountain out of a molehill when it came to Harris discussing salaries with co-workers. There’d been an innocuous conversation about wages, as happens often in workplace, and making it a disciplinary infraction was unjustified.

The court said Harris may have been loud and boisterous, but if her behaviour had gotten worse over the years then the company should have documented it. She had only been written up once, in 1998, and since then had received good performance reviews. There was nothing official given her to tell her she needed to modify her behaviour or risk being dismissed, concluded the court.

The court pointed out that the company couldn’t name a single worker who didn’t get along with her.

Harris had worked for Yorkville Sound for almost eight years. She was 31 and had three children. The court characterized her as “young and obviously bright, but burdened by limited skills and heavy family obligations.”
The court awarded Harris 10 months’ wages in lieu of notice. It then tacked on two more months’ notice because she was pregnant at the time she was dismissed. Part of the rationale in setting reasonable notice is the availability of other work, the court said, and since her pregnancy does not enhance her immediate employability it has to be taken into account.

And the court added two more months in Wallace damages for the manner in which Harris was dismissed. She was pregnant at the time the uncalled-for discipline was initiated against her which ultimately led to her firing. There never was a legitimate basis for firing her, and the manner in which it was done justified punitive damages. In total she was awarded $27,560.

For more information see:

Harris v. Yorkville Sound Ltd., 2005 CarswellOnt 7266 (Ont. S.C.J.)

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