Letter lands employer in hot water

B.C. Supreme Court orders employer to pay $15,000 in damages after its lawyer sent a malicious letter to the province's human rights commission

The British Columbia Supreme Court awarded a woman $15,000 in general and punitive damages after a lawyer acting on her employer’s behalf sent a malicious letter to the province’s human rights commission.

Eva Chiang was hired by Steveston Collision on Nov. 15, 2001, as an office assistant. She was paid $10.50 per hour and worked 40 hours per week.

Mike Khan had management responsibilities at Steveston Collision and also worked as a body man in the shop.

Chiang’s initial experience at work was good, but the environment deteriorated in January 2002. Khan began asking her out and then started calling her at home. Chiang had no interest in Khan, who was married and had four children. She complained to the manager of the business, but he did nothing.

Khan was very persistent in his pursuit of Chiang, the court said. As his conduct became more offensive, she became more uncomfortable and distressed. Eventually she could not return to the workplace, although she very much needed her job.

In early February 2002 she told her family doctor about her situation and she was referred to a counsellor. At that time, Chiang also made a complaint to the human rights commission.

The malicious letter to the human rights commission was written some months later, on May 2, in response to her complaints about Khan’s behaviour.

Chiang launched an action for damages, alleging she had been constructively dismissed.

The court found she had been constructively dismissed from her job at Steveston Collision. The court awarded her four week’s notice, or about $1,680, noting that she had substantially mitigated her damages by finding work in April 2002.

The malicious letter

The court had very harsh words for the May 2 letter that was written by the employer’s lawyer to the human rights commission. It called the contents of the letter “disturbing.”

The letter stated:

“We are advised by our client that this is a frivolous and vexatious proceeding initiated by Ms. Chiang due to the fact that she was having major problems with her boyfriend and family and also engaged in sexual relations with other men and is trying to use these proceedings to gain financially at the expense of our client and his company and business. We are further advised that Ms. Chiang has caused loss of business to Kejo Holdings Ltd. and stolen money from the company which has yet to be reported to the RCMP.

“We are further advised that Ms. Chiang was engaged in a sexual relationship with one of our client's customers at the time of her employment with Kejo Holdings Ltd.

“In view of the aforementioned, it is our client's belief that Ms. Chiang does not have any claim against our client or his company. Accordingly, our client is offering Ms. Chiang a way out of these proceedings by agreeing not to commence proceedings and that each party should go their separate ways regarding the time of Ms. Chiang's employ with our client's company and any disagreements she may have had with our client, Mr. Mike Khan.”

Employer said letter written without malice

The employer claimed the letter was written without malice on an occasion of qualified privilege. But the court tossed that idea aside.

“There can be no other conclusion than that there was malice and the privilege was lost,” wrote Justice Kirsti Gill in her decision. “The assertions in the letter were entirely false and they must have been made without any belief in their truthfulness. The intent of the letter is clear from the letter itself. There has never been a retraction or an apology. The only mitigating factor is that there is no evidence that the letter or its contents were published to a wider audience than its intended recipient.”

Justice Gill awarded $10,000 for general damages and tacked on $5,000 in punitive damages.

For more information see:

Chiang v. Kejo Holdings Ltd., 2005 CarswellBC 623, 2005 BCSC 414 (B.C. S.C.)

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