On October 10, 2012 a jury awarded Meredith Boucher, a former Walmart employee, $1.46 million dollars for damages for wrongful dismissal, intentional infliction of mental suffering and punitive damages.  The award granted was in excess of the amount claimed by Ms. Bouchard, and greatly exceeds prior wrongful dismissal claim awards in Canada.

Ms. Boucher had amassed ten (10) years of service as a Walmart employee when she quit in November 2009 due to alleged abuse by her manager.  The abuse continued for a period of six (6) months and included, but was not limited to Ms. Boucher: being called “stupid” on various occasions; being forced to count skids in front of other Walmart employees to prove that she was capable of counting; and being punched in the arm on two (2) occasions. 

Ms. Boucher resigned and commenced an action for constructive dismissal, alleging that the conduct of her manager left her with no alternative but to resign her employment. The action proceeded by way of jury trial, and Ms. Boucher was awarded a total of $1.46 million dollars, which consisted of:

  1. $200,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering, $10,000 for assault and $1,000,000 for punitive damages from Walmart; and
  2. $100,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering and $150,000 for punitive damages from the manager personally.

Counsel for Walmart has indicated an intention to appeal the decision, calling the award “perverse” based on precedents for wrongful dismissal damages. 

Our views:

While we anticipate that this case will be appealed and the amount of damages may be reduced in a fashion similar to other decisions with elevated mental distress and punitive damage awards, employers should nonetheless ensure that their internal policies and practices are clear regarding acceptable verbal and written communications within their organization, and that any complaints of inappropriate conduct are properly investigated and handled in a timely manner.  This case is another example of a significant punitive damages award in a dismissal case, following on the Pate Estate v. Galway-Cavendish decision which is also under appeal.