174 Davenport Road, Toronto, Ontario, M5R 1J2

Harris v. Yorkville Sound Ltd.

In this matter Ken represented the plaintiff Lorna Harris in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against her former employer and Defendant Yorkville Sound Ltd.

Ms. Harris was employed by the Defendant from October 17, 1995 to September 23, 2003 and her annual salary was $28,794.16. Throughout her employment, she received several positive performance reviews from her supervisors. Nonetheless, allegations were made against that she had been loud and boisterous at times during her employment. Other similar allegations were considered by the Court and examined at length.

In August of 2003, Ms. Harris became pregnant. A specific incident before the termination of her employment is important to consider. On September 17, 2003 a colleague named Nina Gill told Ms. Harris that she was upset about the amount of her raise. Ms. Harris told her that she was lucky as she herself had only received two raises. Within minutes of this exchange Ms. Harris was called into her supervisor’s office and ultimately received a warning letter. In addition, her supervisor spoke with the company’s president and they decided that Ms. Harris should be brought before a “discipline committee”. In fact, she was to be brought before a termination committee:

“30 On Monday September 22, 2003, at 7:35 a.m., Ms. Harris was called to the office of Brenda Carpenter, the personnel manager. Ms. Carpenter notified her that Mr. Weafer had decided to put her before a termination committee. She was told that the vice president and her supervisor would be there, along with two of the most senior co-workers from her department, who would vote at the meeting. Ms. Harris could not be at the meeting and would not be questioned. She apparently was not told what conduct of hers would be considered. She was told that she could have a representative at the meeting.”

When the meeting took place, Ms. Harris was terminated from her employment.

As a result, Ms. Harris commenced litigation against her former employer. One of the main issues was whether or not she had been dismissed for just cause and a secondary issue was whether or not the employer knew that she was pregnant at the time of her dismissal. The Honorable Justice Dambrot considered the evidence and the meeting with the “committee” and concluded as follows:

“46 I say that the committee’s proceedings were meaningless because the procedure followed did not provide even a modicum of fairness to the employee, for the following reasons:
(1) The plaintiff was not given fair notice that a committee was being convened.
(2) The plaintiff was not given notice of what behaviour of hers was under review.
(3) The plaintiff was not shown any documents that were used at the hearing (although there is a dispute about whether any were).
(4) The plaintiff was not permitted to appear before the committee or make submissions to the committee.
(5) Although the plaintiff was permitted to have a representative appear before the committee, she was not given enough time or enough information to adequately brief him.
(6) Although the employees and the employer had an equal number of members on the committee, two additional employer representatives were permitted to sit in on the meeting, which could only serve to put pressure on the employees to fall into line.
(7) The employee members on the committee were given almost no notice, and were not given any clear understanding of what was in issue.
(8) The allegations against the plaintiff were presented to the committee as a fait accompli. The participants heard only management’s side of the dispute. They didn’t hear the witnesses’ versions of the event first hand, and they didn’t hear the plaintiff’s version at all. Their only task, apparently, was to consider what discipline was appropriate for the plaintiff’s wrongdoing.
(9) Based on the evidence of Mr. Dowdell and Mr. Chan, it is apparent that the employee members didn’t really view themselves as decision-makers.
(10) The vote of the committee was not secret. As a result the employees were under pressure not to offend their employer by disagreeing with its position that Ms. Harris should be fired.”

The Honorable Justice Dambrot ruled that Ms. Harris was dismissed without cause and furthermore confirmed that the employer knew that she was pregnant at the time she was dismissed. Additionally, she would have been entitled to twelve months pay in lieu of notice, however, given the manner in which she was dismissed, she was entitled to receive fourteen months:

“66 My determination that reasonable notice based on the traditional considerations would have been twelve months does not entirely end the fixing of reasonable notice. I am obliged to consider the argument of the plaintiff that the notice period should be increased by reason of the bad faith or unfair treatment of the employee at the time of dismissal or subsequent to the dismissal (Wallace damages). In essence, the plaintiff submits that the defendant should be penalized for “playing hardball with Ms. Harris.

67 As I have already indicated, I am unimpressed with the basis for and manner of dismissal of Ms. Harris, and with the defendant persisting with its assertion of cause, which it either could not or chose not to prove.

68 As a result, I fix the notice period for Ms. Harris at fourteen months.”

The Court ruled that Ms. Harris was wrongfully dismissed and entitled to damages in the amount of $27,559.46.

Ken successfully represented Ms. Harris who was able to have her notice period extended significantly as a result of the egregious manner in which she was dismissed while pregnant. This decision sends a message to employers that the manner in which an employee is fired should be carefully considered.

Full citation:
Harris v. Yorkville Sound Ltd., 2005 CarswellOnt 7266, [2005] O.J. No. 5360, [2005] O.T.C. 1065, 144 A.C.W.S. (3d) 485, 2006 C.L.L.C. 210-027