The Supreme Court of British Columbia recently awarded punitive damages against a former employee who stole over $98,000 from her employer prior to her without cause termination.
The defendant, who was the employer’s accountant for 15 years, was terminated after a decline in business. Soon after, it was discovered that she had made wire transfers to herself from the employer’s bank account in the amount of $18,334.00 in 2011. When questioned, the defendant claimed the monies were to reimburse her for expenses she had incurred on behalf of the employer between 2005 and 2007 but had not yet submitted. The employer’s investigation of her explanation established that she had taken out far more money than could be explained by any expense reports submitted in the past. As a result, the employer brought an action seeking repayment of the money based on the tort of conversion.
At trial, the Court concluded that the defendant had actually stolen over $98,000 from the employer. In addition to ordering the defendant to repay the moneys stolen from the employer, the Court also ordered punitive damages in the amount of $5,000 in light of the defendant’s abuse of the trust the employer had placed in her, her lack of remorse, and her failure to take responsibility for her actions.
Notably, the Court took the defendant’s financial means into account when determining the size of the punitive damages award. While the Court stated that $5,000 was a relatively modest amount, it was sufficient to deter others and to denote the Court’s conclusion that the defendant’s behaviour was reprehensible.
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