Move back to Ottawa from Caribbean island leads to maximum award

Russell v. Foley (2002), 17 C.C.E.L. (3d) 146 (Ont. S.C.J.)

The plaintiff, an owner and operator of an equestrian operation in St. Maarten, an island in the Caribbean, was hired by the employer to help him develop a first-class equestrian facility in Ottawa. She sought damages in the amount of $25,000 for wrongful dismissal.

The evidence of the employer and the former employee contradicted on nearly every matter. The plaintiff claimed she sold her farm and returned to Ottawa on the basis of the opportunity offered to her by the defendant.

The defendant said the plaintiff had already decided to move back to Ottawa in order to be with her elderly mother and because her equestrian operation in St. Maarten was worthless. He claimed this was the motivation behind her decision to relocate and not his offer of employment. The parties also disagreed as to whether the plaintiff was hired for a renewable one-year term or as a seasonal employee.

The court accepted the testimony of the plaintiff finding that the employer lacked credibility. It found that although the plaintiff had a successful equestrian operation in St. Maarten, frequent hurricanes, which caused uninsurable damage, were depleting her resources. This, in addition to her desire to be with her mother and the opportunity to set up a first-class equestrian facility, enticed her to quickly sell her business and to accept the offer of employment.

The plaintiff was found to have suffered losses in the disposition of her business in order to move and start her new job. The court held the plaintiff was wrongfully dismissed and was poorly treated.

The employer’s actions, including verbal abuse, increased mental distress and humiliation, and entitled her to aggravated damages. The plaintiff was awarded $25,000 in damages, the maximum amount allowable at the time under Ontario’s Simplified Rules.

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