THE EMPLOYERS' EDGE
BC Jury hands down largest ever Punitive Damages Award in Canadian Employment History
????A British Columbia jury has awarded a former 34 year employee over $800,000 in damages for wrongful dismissal damages. Included in this amount is the largest punitive damage award ever handed down by a jury in Canadian employment law history.
Mr. Higginson was employed by Babine Forest Products Ltd for 34 years when the sawmill was sold to a U.S. based company, Hampton Lumber Mills in 2006. He continued to work at the sawmill in the position of an Electrical Supervisor, until his employment was terminated for cause in October of 2009. As a result, he was not given a severance package.
Mr. Higginson sued for wrongful dismissal, claiming the just cause allegations were fabricated by the company in an attempt to avoid paying him the hefty severance package he would have been entitled to, considering his lengthy service with the company. Further, it was alleged by Mr. Higginson that the Company embarked on a deliberate strategy designed to make the jobs of long service employees working at the mill miserable, in order to encourage them to leave without the company having to pay out severance.
At the conclusion of a three week trial that recently ended on June 29, 2012, the jury found that Higginson was wrongfully dismissed and that the Company’s allegations of cause were unfounded. Hampton Lumber Mills and Babine Forest Products, joint defendants in the case, were ordered to pay $236,000 in damages for Higginson’s wrongful dismissal, in addition to $573,000 in punitive damages for the manner in which Higginson was terminated. The defendant companies will be appealing this decision.
This decision stands as a stark reminder to employers that all terminations should be handled with caution, and in a fair and sensitive manner. Failure to do so may result in a significant punitive damages award against an employer, as illustrated in this case.
Crawford Chondon and Partners LLP will continue to monitor this case and report any new developments in relation to the appeal filed by the Defendants.
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