Supervisor ordered to pay former employer almost $100,000

Worker took confidential client lists

A supervisor was ordered to pay almost $100,000 in damages to his former employer after he took confidential client lists and contacted some of them at a new job.

Michael Therriault started working for Unified Freight Services Ltd. in July 1995. In 2000 he signed a restrictive covenant that contained confidentiality and non-competition clauses. The agreement reiterated previous policies that stressed that documents containing customer information and rates couldn’t be removed from the office without the permission of Stan Walters, the company’s founder.

Shortly after signing the agreement, Therriault was promoted to supervisor. By January 2001, however, a series of incidents resulted in the termination of his employment. Several of these incidents involved Therriault taking confidential documents home with him. After the last incident, Walters called Therriault into his office and told him he was being let go. Walters said he could either return all documents removed from the office or deal with the police. The pair drove to Therriault’s home, where company documents were retrieved from his residence, his garage and his car.

After his dismissal, Therriault started working for Titan Transport Ltd. He contacted many of his old customers to tell them of his new situation.

Unified Freight filed an action against Therriault, seeking damages for breach of fiduciary duty and for violation of the 2000 agreement.

The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench said Therriault had the power to access company information and use it to the detriment of the company, and the company was particularly vulnerable to him. As such, Therriault was a fiduciary of Unified Freight.

Employees who are entrusted with proprietary information have a duty extending beyond the termination of their employment, said the court. They are not to solicit the customers of their former employer. Therriault breached his fiduciary obligation to Unified Freight when, within a year, he told Unified’s customers he’d joined Titan.

In assessing damages the court conceded it did not have complete information to work with and would have to act on the best evidence available.

It accepted a spreadsheet prepared by Walters which itemized lost business in the 12 months after Therriault left. By Walters’ estimation the company had lost $128,949 due to his actions. The court awarded that amount, less 25 per cent because some of the business would likely have followed Therriault anyway for a total award of $96,712.

For more information see:

Unified Freight Services Ltd. v. Therriault, 2006 CarswellAlta 136, 2006 ABQB 93 (Alta. Q.B.)

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