Kelly VanBuskirk: A wrongful dismissal case that's making waves
- February 26, 2008 7:51 AM |
- By Michael Hlinka
Money Talks is a collection of daily columns from The Business Network, which airs weekday mornings on CBC Radio One at 5:45 a.m. ET (6:15 a.m. ET in N.L.).
By Kelly Van Buskirk, a lawyer with Lawson Creamer in Saint John, N.B.
(Listen to the original audio)
Well, employer circles are all abuzz about this week's hearing of the groundbreaking Honda case in the Supreme Court of Canada. Every business owner should be staying tuned over the next few months to find out how our country's highest court decides the issues which have been raised by the automaker and its dismissed employee, Kevin Keays.
In case you don't remember, Honda Canada fired Kevin Keays a few years ago, after his medical disability prevented him from complying with the company's attendance management program and after he questioned the utility of meeting with yet another company doctor.
The trial judge who presided over Keays' wrongful dismissal claim really threw the book at the company: he ordered Honda to pay close to one and a half months of salary compensation for every year that Keays had been employed, along with a huge punitive damages award of $500,000 and an award of legal costs and expenses which amounted to more than $600,000 more!
Although the Ontario Court of Appeal wound the penalty damages portion of the whole mess back to $100,000, the result was still bad enough that Honda put the case in front of the Supreme Court of Canada on February 20th. The company is asking the Supreme Court to erase much of the damage it suffered in the Ontario courts.
The Supreme Court story doesn't end there, however. Kevin Keays didn't take Honda's appeal lying down. Keays cross-appealed on several fronts, including a request for increased punitive damages and, more importantly, recognition of discrimination as a new basis of wrongdoing in the courts. Right now, the law says that only human rights boards can rule that an employer has discriminated against an employee. What Keays has asked the Supreme Court to do is to allow Judges to make those decisions, as well.
If that happens, then a long-standing legal rule which has protected employers will be changed, and companies across Canada will have to brace themselves for an added dimension to employee lawsuits.
Judging from the throng of interested parties and observers at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa during the Honda case, this is a decision that will attract lots of publicity. Whatever the Supreme Court of Canada decides in the Honda case, I'm sure that Canadian companies will want to know about it, since the law which determines how employees can be treated by their bosses, and how much money they can be awarded in wrongful dismissal lawsuits, may change dramatically.
-- For the Business Network, I'm Kelly VanBuskirk in Saint John.
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