British Columbia Supreme Court, 2009
The defendant Marriott Hotels of Canada Ltd. terminated the plaintiff Mr. van Woerkens from his management position due to his alleged conduct at the company’s holiday party. The defendant alleged that the plaintiff and M, a young female subordinate, were both intoxicated and dancing in a "sexually suggestive" manner. It also alleged that during the after-party, the plaintiff was seen inappropriately touching M in the bathroom. The defendant argued the plaintiff's actions, combined with his dishonest denial of the allegations during the subsequent investigation, amounted to just cause for termination. The plaintiff denied that he committed any of the alleged misconduct and sued for wrongful dismissal.
Issue: The issue in this case was whether the evidence established the plaintiff's misconduct on a balance of probabilities, and, if so, whether the nature and degree of misconduct warranted dismissal.
The Court found that the defendant had just cause for termination. The Court concluded that the plaintiff had sexually harassed M and was dishonest during the defendant's investigation. The Court found that overall the plaintiff's conduct had breached the faith essential to his working relationship and that it "was fundamentally inconsistent with the continuation of the employment relationship."
In supporting its decision the Court pointed to the following reasons:
- The plaintiff's inappropriate touching of M clearly placed the sexual harassment at the "serious" end of the continuum;
- M was a subordinate of the plaintiff, and although she did not tell him that his conduct was unwelcome, the plaintiff was aware that she was highly intoxicated;
- The plaintiff had jeopardized the respect and authority he required to discharge his employment duties by engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviour in plain view of other employees; and
- The plaintiff initially denied any misconduct but eventually changed the characteristics of his response to coincide with witness' testimonies.