Employer’s ‘blatant disregard’ for employee brings <i>Wallace</i> damages

Company misled employee with ill child on its intention to dismiss her

A former sales representative in the telecommunications industry whose employment was terminated after 24 years is entitled to 20 months’ notice, including Wallace damages, after her employer breached its duty to be “honest and forthright” with her, says the British Columbia Supreme Court.

Jacqui Stuart had been employed by Navigata Communications Ltd., a Saskatchewan-based telecom company operating on Vancouver Island, and its corporate predecessors since she graduated university in 1982. Her most recent position was manager of strategic accounts. Since 2001, she had worked a three-day week to spend more time with her young children. In February 2006, after her five-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 juvenile diabetes, she took a leave of absence. Her tentative return date was in April 2006 but she was terminated at the end of March.

The court considered several factors in deciding the notice period. It found one major reason Stuart had been fired was the fact she was working part-time and the company had decided in December 2005 there was no longer room for part-time employment.

The court also found “Navigata made a considered decision to hide from Ms. Stuart the fact that she was going to be dismissed,” and although she spent a great deal of time and energy working towards a fair severance package, the company did not intend to offer her more than $111,000. Stuart believed there were ongoing negotiations but no one in the company corrected her.

“The company executives let her believe that the meeting at which they intended to dismiss her was, in fact, a meeting to discuss a severance package. All of this was happening at a time when she was vulnerable because of her son’s serious and unexpected illness.” the court said.

Navigata’s cutting off access to Stuart’s computer was “high-handed,” and it also cancelled her benefits effective March 31, 2006, just two days after her dismissal. As well, the firm did not pay her Canada Labour Code benefits until after the trial started.

The court awarded two months’ notice for Wallace damages on top an award of 18 months’ reasonable notice, saying “Navigata breached the duty it has to be honest and forthright with Ms. Stuart. It did so in a manner that showed a blatant disregard for her.” The total award was $216,666.66. See Stuart v. Navigata Communications Ltd., 2007 CarswellBC 670 (B.C. S.C.).

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