Court awards <i>Wallace</i> damages after fitness club fires employee without severance or notice

Club said she was a part-time employee because part of her duties included independent personal training

A worker at a fitness club was wrongfully dismissed and is entitled to extra damages due to the way she was dismissed, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled.

Sharon Budhram worked in several capacities at multiple locations of Fit for Life and Women in Motion health clubs. She usually worked three days a week selling club memberships and occasionally taught fitness classes and performed personal training at night. She was paid on an hourly basis when selling memberships and separately when teaching classes or doing personal training.

On May 28, 2003, Budhram was terminated without cause or notice. Fit for Life argued she was a part-time employee paid by the hour and her night work was as an independent contractor, so she wasn’t entitled to severance or notice. It also claimed she had committed fraud by falsifying records of personal training sessions by initaling incomplete sessions after she was terminated.

Budhram argued she started working for Fit for Life as a part-time employee in 1999, but the hours she worked over the years qualified her as a full-timer. She also said the clients in question had signed up specifically for instruction with her in the evening so they were her clients, not the club’s, and she had “a proprietary interest” in them. She had initialed her sessions with them in the record book before she had actually provided the services because she viewed them as her clients.

The court found Budhram’s actions were “improper” but not sufficient to justify dismissal and since they had happened after she’d been informed of her dismissal, it couldn’t be a reason for it. The court also found in order for Budhram to be qualified to provide personal fitness instruction to the club’s clients, she had to be considered a full-time employee of the club. The court ruled Budhram had been wrongfully dismissed and was entitled to four months’ reasonable notice, equalling $12,654.48.

The court also found Fit for Life’s treatment of Budhram by refusing to accept her status as a regular employee and not offering any severance was in bad faith and contributed to her conduct in what the club had called fraudulent behaviour. The court awarded punitive Wallace damages of an additional one month’s pay, bringing the total award to $15,818.10. See Budhram v. 1257229 Ontario Ltd., 2007 CarswellOnt 2874 (Ont. S.C.J.).

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