Another BC employer has been hit with punitive damages. There have been cases where flawed investigations have led to punitive damages (see the Vernon case in BC, and Home Hardware in Alberta), and there have been jury awards for bad employer conduct (see Babine Forest Products in BC, and Wal-Mart in Ontario). Now another BC Supreme Court case - Kelly v. Norsemont Mining Inc. - has awarded punitive damages for the conduct of the employer.
Kelly sued and complained he was dismissed for insisting the company adhere to securities regulations. The employer vigorously defended. Not only did it say there was just cause for termination due to incompetence, the employer also alleged civil fraud by Kelly. Both those claims were found to be without merit. The employer also:
- withheld Kelly’s last month’s pay for the seven years before trial;
- physically wrestled with Kelly over his personal laptop;
- refused to return other personal items while requiring the return of a company issued Starbucks card;
- threatened to bankrupt Kelly; and
- threatened action to impede Kelly in earning other income after termination.
The court found the employer’s conduct to be “vindictive, reprehensible and malicious” and that punitive damages were necessary to deter such conduct.
The Court looked at other punitive damages awards ranging from $20,000 to $75,000 before deciding to award $100,000.
The bad news is that large awards of punitive damages are becoming more common. The good news is that the conduct that attracts punitive damages is easily avoided by a reasonable approach to terminating employees and to defending claims that may arise.