Woman alleges she was harassed and forced to quit, jury awards $1 million in punitive damages
Yesterday, a jury in Ontario ruled in favour of Meredith Boucher, a former Walmart employee in Windsor, Ont., who alleged she was "subject to profane and insulting mental abuse" from May to November 2009 from the store manager.
The alleged conduct included being called a "(expletive) idiot" and being made to count skids in front of others to prove she could count.
There were also allegations she "was subject to sexual harassment and discrimination, intentional infliction of mental suffering, and — at the hands of an assistant manager who punched her in the arm two days in a row and was subsequently fired — assault."
The jury believed she was forced to resign, and this conduct constituted a constructive dismissal. Details of the award are:
•$200,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering
•$1 million for punitive damages
•$10,000 for assault
From the manager personally:
•$100,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering
•$150,000 for punitive damages.
The award of $1 million in punitive damages dwarfs previous awards in Canadian wrongful dismissal claims.
Readers may recall the Keays v. Honda Canada Inc. case in which Keays was awarded $500,000 in punitive damages. That case made headlines and sent shockwaves through the legal and business communities. However, that amount was reduced to $100,000 by the Court of Appeal and wiped out entirely by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Counsel for Walmart has indicated that he has recommended that his client file an appeal, calling the award "perverse". So, like the Honda case, the saga may continue.
Stuart Rudner is an HR Lawyer and a partner in the Labour & Employment Law Group of Miller Thomson LLP, a national law firm. He provides clients with strategic advice regarding all aspects of the employment relationship, and represents them before courts, mediators and tribunals. He is author of You’re Fired: Just Cause for Dismissal in Canada, published by Carswell. He can be reached at (416) 595-8672 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @CanadianHRLaw and join his Canadian HR Law Group on LinkedIn.