Employers can breathe a sigh of relief after the Ontario Court of Appeal recently reduced a $1,000,000 punitive damages award based on a claim of harassment resulting in constructive dismissal.
The plaintiff was promoted to the assistant manager at a Wal-Mart store. After working in the position for several months, she began to suffer abuse from her immediate supervisor, the store manager. The store manager continuously belittled, humiliated and demeaned the plaintiff, including berating her in front of customers and making her count pallets in front of her co-workers to prove to him that she could count to ten.
After Wal-Mart conducted an investigation, it found the plaintiff’s complaints were unsubstantiated and warned her that she would be held accountable. The plaintiff resigned a few days later and then sued Wal-Mart and the store manager for constructive dismissal and damages.
At trial, the jury found the plaintiff had been constructively dismissed and awarded the following against Wal-Mart:
- $200,000 in aggravated damage for intentional infliction of mental suffering; and
- $1,000,000 in punitive damages.
While the Court of Appeal did not interfere with the award for aggravated damages, it reduced the $1,000,000 award for punitive damages to $100,000. The Court concluded the reduced amount was all that was rationally needed to punish Wal-Mart and to denounce and deter its conduct.
Boucher v. Wal-Mart Canada Corp. and Jason Pinnock, 2014 ONCA 419