Ontario Court of Appeal dramatically reduces record damage award against Walmart

Punitive damages reduced from $1.15 million to $110,000; total damages still enough to punish and serve as deterrent: appeal court

The Ontario Court of Appeal has overruled a jury’s record-setting wrongful dismissal damage award against Walmart, reducing the total damages by more than two-thirds.

Meredith Boucher, 44, worked at a Windsor, Ont., Walmart store for a decade. Though she was considered a good employee, she claimed that after she refused a request by the store manager, Jason Pinnock, things deteriorated. After that refusal, Boucher said Pinnock subjected her to repeated verbal abuse and humiliation for several months in 2009. In her wrongful dismissal suit, Boucher stated that the abuse she suffered included being called an idiot and having to count skids in front of other Walmart employees to show she could count. She also said an assistant manager punched her in the arm twice. The assistant manager was later dismissed.

In a rare instance of a jury hearing an employment law case, the jury found Boucher was constructively dismissed and awarded her $200,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering and $1 million in punitive damages, to be paid by Walmart. Walmart was also ordered to pay another $10,000 for the assault by the assistant manager.

In addition to the $1.2 million damage award against Walmart Walmart, the jury also ordered Pinnock to personally pay Boucher $100,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering and $150,000 in punitive damages, bringing the total damage award to $1.46 million, a record in employment law circles — plus 20 months’ pay in lieu of notice.

Not unexpectedly, Walmart appealed the decision. The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed the poor conduct by Pinnock and Walmart’s liability was significant, but the amount of punitive damages awarded by the jury was beyond necessary, given the amount of wrongful dismissal and aggravated damages already awarded.

The appeal court upheld the aggravated damages awards of $200,000 against Walmart and $100,000 against Pinnock. However, the punitive damages against Walmart were reduced from $1 million to $100,000 and those against the manager were reduced from $150,000 to $10,000, making the new punitive and aggravated damages total for Boucher $420,000.

“Especially in the light of the significant compensatory awards against each appellant, those amounts are all that is rationally required to punish Pinnock and Wal-Mart and to denounce and deter their conduct,” said the Court of Appeal.

For more information see:

Boucher v. Wal-Mart Canada Corp., 2014 CarswellOnt 6646 (Ont. C.A.).

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