Forestry giant Weyerhaeuser has been ordered to pay a Saskatchewan man money after cutting his health benefits.
Former plywood mill employee Al Malfair recently won a partial victory — and $2,800 — after taking his case to small claims court in Melfort.
This case hinges around a severance agreement that Malfair signed when he was laid off in 1997 from the Hudson Bay mill by the then-owner Saskfor. Malfair, a manager at the mill, had been working there for almost 23 years.
His severance contract promised him and his wife extended health benefits for the rest of their lives — with the company paying the premiums.
When Weyerhaeuser took over Saskfor's assets in 1999, it took responsibility for Malfair's severance deal, too.
The company continued paying until 2010, when it made Malfair start paying 50 per cent of his health premiums.
He sued with the help of his son Gil and his son's mother-in-law Judith Doulis, both of whom are lawyers.
The company argued there was no breach of contract and that Malfair waited too long to sue.
Judge Paul Demong disagreed, however, with a colourful analogy likening the case to a dispute between neighbours over an oak tree.
"The defendant’s argument is akin to neighbour A, who, frustrated with the shade thrown onto his land by the giant oak tree on neighbour B’s adjoining property, sends a letter to B advising him of A’s intent to chop the tree down ... and two years and five months later, with chainsaw, letter and thumb tack in hand, crosses onto B’s property, cuts down the tree and tacks a letter to the stump which advises B that he has no remedy," Demong said in the decision.
On Friday, the family learned that that Demong found that Weyerhaueser breached a contract.
Lawyer Gil Malfair said he tried to avoid going to court over the matter, but talks with Weyerehaueser weren't productive. Doulis said it made sense for Al Malfair's family to pitch in.
"When Al said 'Look at what they're doing,' we said, 'You know, you do have a few lawyers at your disposal,'" Doulis said. The decision is a reminder for large companies that they can't unilaterally change or reinterpret contracts, she said.
Doulis added she's pleased with how it all worked out.
"I know the Malfairs and he [Al] is one of the typical hard-working people of our country," she said.