Canadian Tire’s poor treatment of employee in firing him leads to <i>Wallace</i> damages

Long-time department manager shown the door to allow another employee to fill the position

A Canadian Tire employee should not have been fired and the way he was treated entitled him to extra damages, the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench has ruled.

Stewart Schwindt was the service manager of a Canadian Tire store in Regina. He had worked at that store from 1976 to 1993, left with a full severance, and returned in 1996 at the request of the store’s new president, Neil Sulkers. However, by 2003, Sulkers wasn’t happy with the shrinking profit margin of the automotive department and he felt Schwindt hadn’t been able to control the mechanics’ wage costs. He claimed he had asked Schwindt for “a proper business plan” with suggestions to improve the situation but Schwindt didn’t present the plan when asked.

During this time, Sulkers was also talking to another employee of the store about replacing Schwindt. In September 2003, he convinced the employee to take the job.

On Oct. 31, 2003, Sulkers told Schwindt he wasn’t happy with his performance and he should retire. Sulkers gave him a letter stating Schwindt would resign and asked Schwindt to sign it.

Schwindt was upset by the request but signed the letter. He was escorted out of the building immediately without being allowed to return to his office. Later, he received a cheque for $4,950 and a record of employment stating he had been terminated and the cheque was in lieu of notice.

Despite the fact Schwindt had signed the letter of resignation, the court found it was clear he had been terminated. He was upset when he met with Sulkers and he signed the letter under pressure from Sulkers to resign so the other employee could take over.

The court also found Schwindt had been “a very satisfactory employee” during his career with Canadian Tire and there was nothing on his employment record to show any dissatisfaction with his performance. The fact he went on to become the manager of another Canadian Tire store after his termination made it less likely he did a poor job at Sulkers’ store. The court ruled Schwindt’s termination could not be justified.

The court ruled Schwindt was entitled to damages of nine months’ pay in lieu of notice for his service from 1996 to 2003. He had received appropriate severance the first time he left Canadian Tire in 1993 so the court didn’t consider that service time.

The court also found giving Schwindt an ultimatum such as the letter and escorting him from the store was embarrassing and prejudicial to him, especially for a long-term and valued employee. The court awarded an additional two months’ salary for the poor treatment he suffered, bringing the total damages to $37,126.

“Although Sulkers may argue that he terminated Schwindt because of Schwindt’s failure to develop a proper business plan for the automotive department, it is apparent that this was just a ruse designed to allow Sulkers an excuse to replace Schwindt with (the other employee),” the court said. “Once Sulkers had (the other employee) to fill the position, all he had to do was force Schwindt to resign.” See Schwindt v. Jann & Neil Sulkers Ltd., 2007 CarswellSask 259 (Sask. Q.B.).

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