BC Supreme Court

New High-Water Mark for Punitive Damages Awarded in Wrongful Dismissal

A recent BC Supreme Court jury award hasestablished a new Canadian high for punitive damages in an employment law case.

The plaintiff was terminated from hisposition as an electrical supervisor after 34 years of employment. His employerdid not provide him with any notice of termination or pay in lieu upontermination, instead alleging just cause for his dismissal.

In his claim, the plaintiff alleged thatthe cause allegation was false, and merely an attempt by the employer to avoidpaying him severance. He also claimed the employer’s allegation of cause waspart of a broader scheme by the employer to minimize costs by getting rid oflong term employees without paying severance.

At trial, the jury found there was nojust cause for dismissal, and awarded the plaintiff over $809,000 in totaldamages. The judgment included $236,000 in compensatory damages, the equivalentof approximately two years’ pay in lieu of notice, as well as $573,000 inpunitive damages. As juries do not provide reasons for their findings, it isnot known what facts persuaded the jury to award punitive damages.

Punitive damages in employment law arenot designed to compensate a terminated employee for any loss, but to punish anemployer for flagrantly egregious conduct that is found to be “deserving ofpunishment because of its shockingly harsh, vindictive, reprehensible andmalicious nature.”

Higginsonv. Babine Forest Products Ltd.