Employee, bosses, throw shade at each other
This instalment of You Make the Call features a dental office employee who claimed the dentists who employed her treated her poorly and fired her without cause.
Susan Rouse, 47, was an employee at a dental office in Lion’s Head, Ont., owned and operated by two dentist brothers, Thomas and David Drake. She was hired in January 2005 in a part-time capacity and gradually moved closer to full-time, working between 37 and 42 hours per week. She had no employment contract or job description and performed a variety of roles in the office including receptionist, cleaner, and dental assistant — though she had no training for the latter.
Rouse claimed she witnessed racist and abusive incidents perpetrated by the Drakes, such as leaving a First Nations customer bleeding and saying “He’s an Indian, they don’t deserve teeth,” shoving a First Nations girl into a dental chair and telling her to “shut up,” David Drake making a sexually-charged comment to her, and threatening to fire her if she reported anything she saw in the office. Rouse also said there were cameras set up all over the dental office, including her work area, that allowed the Drakes to conduct surveillance on all the staff.
Rouse said she was never given a written reprimand for any misconduct or poor work performance, though she received a few verbal reprimands for various things — including a concern that her recorded work hours were excessive, but Rouse didn’t have a written schedule and normal practice was for her to keep track of her hours on her own to submit for payment. They also spoke to her about directing their patients to the other dentist in the office, which they felt was bad for patient care and left the Drakes without enough work on some days. She also didn’t have any formal performance reviews or meetings during her time at the dental office.
On June 23, 2012, Rouse found several handwritten notes from the Drakes full of complaints about her. She went to speak with David Drake and dropped some of them. When she bent down to pick them up, David said “while you’re down there…” which she believed was a sexual comment. When she returned to her desk, Thomas Drake gave her a note that said she was being fired for cause. Both brothers said goodbye and she left the office, receiving no severance pay except for her hours worked up to that day.
The Drakes claimed they had viewed images from the surveillance cameras that showed Rouse manipulating them. They said this was the “final straw” after lying about her work hours and acting insubordinate at times. They denied Rouse’s allegations of racist and abusive conduct and David Drake denied making a sexual comment to Rouse, which they claimed were further examples of Rouse lying.
You Make the Call
Was Rouse wrongfully dismissed?
Was there just cause for dismissal?
IF YOU SAID Rouse was wrongfully dismissed, you're right.
The court found both Rouse and the Drakes exaggerated their sides of the story — it was likely Rouse wasn’t “the terrible employee, essentially a useless, insubordinate fraudster” the Drakes made her out to be and the Drakes weren’t “the racist psychopaths” that Rouse portrayed them as. The court determined there were some problems with Rouse — she interfered with the security cameras because they made her uncomfortable, she was sometimes late as there was no written schedule, she referred patients to the other dentist on a few occasions — but there was no evidence she intentionally falsified her work hours or was guilty of any other dishonest misconduct.
The court found none of the issues with Rouse were worthy of dismissal, especially since she hadn’t received any formal discipline. The Drakes were ordered to pay her the equivalent of eight months’ compensation as reasonable notice for her seven-and-one-half years of service. The court declined to award aggravated or punitive damages, finding that the Drakes believed they had just cause for dismissal and, while they were not “people persons,” there was no evidence they were “unduly sensitive” or caused Rouse psychological distress in her dismissal.
For more information see:
• Rouse v. Drake & Drake et al., 2018 CarswellOnt 2161 (Ont. S.C.J.).