A B.C. employer has recently been hit with a significant damage award related to the termination of a long service employee. The court found two major problems: a flawed investigation and an insensitive termination.

This week, we look at the investigation.  

Stephanie Vernon spent her entire working life – 30 years from the age of 19 – working for the Liquor Distribution Branch.  She became a manager, known for her aggressive style and demanding ways, but her performance reviews were exemplary.  There had never been a complaint against her, she had never received any warning about her management style, and several employees credited her with their success in careers with the LDB.

A particularly sensitive employee made a complaint about Ms. Vernon. The employer did an investigation, but the court found it to be “flawed from beginning to end” and “neither objective nor fair”.

According to the court, the investigation was flawed because  

  • it was conducted by the person who was also the advisor to Ms. Vernon on labour relations matters;
  • Ms. Vernon was surprised that she was being investigated, rather than meeting with her advisor about the complaint;
  • the investigator sided with the Complainant from the outset;
  • the investigator inaccurately summarized the interview in key respects, and those summaries were relied on by her superiors;
  • other interviews were interrogations, and statements of support for Ms. Vernon were met with yelling and accusations of lying.

The flawed investigation was the basis for a decision to terminate.  Next week, we will look at the problems with how the termination was carried out.

[Vernon v. British Columbia (Liquor Distribution Branch), 2012 BCSC 133]