In Dragos v Hunterwood Technologies Ltd (2018 ABPC 40) the court dismissed the plaintiff's allegation that he had been dismissed after making suggestions about improvements to the employer's safety systems.

Facts

The employee was a relatively short-term employee (25 months), working as a control systems specialist. His duties included designing, implementing and monitoring various control systems for machines manufactured by the employer.

The plaintiff testified that the employer had been involved in a fatality in California, involving one of its machines. As a result, the plaintiff claimed that he became concerned about the employer's future liability and decided to research safety systems. He sent an email to his general manager making suggestions, including a redesign of the system and a rewrite of the safety manual. The general manager replied stating that:

  • the employer was looking for an expert;
  • the employer would be reviewing training methods; and
  • he was open to further discussion.

He also stated that the employer's goal was not to escape liability, but rather to "build machines that do not hurt people". The following day, the plaintiff was terminated without cause. He was given no reason and when he asked, was told that the employer's counsel had instructed it not to give a reason. He was escorted from the office in a civil manner. A few days later, the plaintiff followed up on this, again asking for a reason for his dismissal; however, the employer did not respond.

Decision

At trial, the plaintiff argued that he had been dismissed for questioning the employer's safety systems. However, other employees had told him that he "wasn't a good fit".

The employer denied that the reason for the plaintiff's dismissal was his concern with the safety system. The general manager testified that the employer had been experiencing financial challenges that resulted in:

  • 12 employees being dismissed;
  • managers taking a salary cut;
  • overtime hours being lost; and
  • several projects being in jeopardy.

He claimed that the timing of the dismissal (ie, the day after the plaintiff's emails about his perceived safety issues) was a coincidence and that the plaintiff had been dismissed because he was not a good fit.

In addition to damages for reasonable notice of termination, the plaintiff claimed that he was entitled to aggravated and punitive damages as a result of the manner in which he was dismissed. His evidence largely related to the employer's refusal to give him a reason for the dismissal and the timing in relation to his emails about the safety concerns.

The court found that the plaintiff's theories were unsupported by the evidence and insufficient to justify an award of aggravated or punitive damages. It therefore held that the employer's conduct was not malicious and high handed so as to warrant additional damages and dismissed that aspect of the plaintiff's claim.(1)

For further information on this topic please contact Cristina Wendel at Dentons by telephone (+1 780 423 7100) or email (cristina.wendel@dentons.com). The Dentons website can be accessed at www.dentons.com.

Endnotes

(1) For more information please see www.occupationalhealthandsafetylaw.com.

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