Toronto golf club manager awarded more than $250,000

Geluch v. Rosedale Golf Assn., 2004 CarswellOnt 2621 (Ont. S.C.J.)

Michael Geluch was hired by the Rosedale Golf Club Association in 1985 to be its general manager and secretary/treasurer.

Geluch’s responsibilities included overseeing the golf course and related operations, overseeing the food and beverages services, supervising the club’s 120 staff members, preparing budgets and working with the board of directors to carry out the operations of the club and its $6 million budget.

In October 1997 board members were told an employee at Rosedale had left the club because Geluch had been abusive, belittling and degrading towards her. Geluch was terminated and given two months’ salary as severance.

He filed an action for wrongful dismissal, seeking 18 months’ reasonable notice plus additional and punitive damages for the manner of his dismissal.

Rosedale countered that Geluch’s dismissal was for just cause: abuse of staff; charging improper credit card expenses; taking unauthorized salary increases; theft (the unauthorized taking of food and wine); sexual harassment; and withholding financial information from the board of directors.

These reasons weren’t mentioned at the time of dismissal and no mention of sexual harassment was made until later. Geluch claimed he had an excellent relationship with the club’s members and with the staff and he was terminated because he had upset some of the directors when he objected to the club’s membership application process which he referred to as the “blackball system.”

In deciding the case Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Supreme Court of Justice said he needed to determine whether Geluch had committed the acts for which he was accused and whether, individually or in combination, they constituted grounds for dismissal.

On the question of fiscal impropriety the court ruled financial records were imperfectly recorded concerning Geluch’s credit card purchases, clothing allowance, travel expenses and an unauthorized salary increase. But the court noted the sloppy record-keeping continued for many years and Geluch was never reprimanded for it or asked to keep better records. As for financial matters in his role as secretary/treasurer the court found Geluch’s actions did not amount to financial mismanagement and were not grounds for dismissal.

The court found Geluch’s practice of occasionally taking home food and wine was appropriate given his duties and an accepted practice at the club.

“There was no suggestion that Mr. Geluch was abusing the food privileges,” said Justice Himel.

On the question of abuse of staff, the court concluded Geluch was a hardworking professional who imposed his work ethic on his staff and sometimes did not treat them gently. There were clear occasions of inappropriate conduct but they were more deserving of a reprimand and a warning rather than immediate dismissal, ruled the court.

Rosedale had not followed its own sexual harassment policy in investigating that allegation against Geluch and the court ruled those incidents were sporadic and did not justify dismissal.

Justice Himel noted Geluch received regular salary increases, including one of $8,000 in the year before his termination, and there had never been a formal complaint filed against him. Rosedale had not proved its case on the balance of probabilities and it hadn’t been established a breach of fiduciary obligation. Geluch had been terminated, the court said, because “he failed to keep the board members happy.”

Geluch was awarded 15 months’ notice of $185,500 for salary and benefits; accrued vacation pay of $50,000; and $24,700 in damages for the manner in which he was dismissed. He was also awarded $8,000 for expenses incurred in mitigating his situation in the 13 months it took him to find another job.

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