In 2012, we reported on an Ontario jury award of approximately $1.5 million damages to a 42-year-old former assistant manager who resigned her employment at Wal-Mart after being verbally abused and harassed by her 32-year-old store manager. At trial, the employee was found entitled to $200,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering, $1 million in punitive damages and $10,000 for assault. The manager was ordered to pay $100,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering and $150,000 in punitive damages. We noted that an appeal of the award, the highest in Canada at that time, was a virtual certainty. In fact, both parties appealed.
In Boucher v Wal-Mart Canada Corp., 2014 ONCA 419, the Ontario Court of Appeal significantly reduced the punitive damages and dismissed the employee’s claim for loss of wages. The Court of Appeal held that a punitive award of $200,000 was sufficient to punish Wal-Mart, having regard to the magnitude of the compensatory damages awarded, the relatively short duration of the harassment and the fact that Wal-Mart did not deliberately set out to bring about the employee’s resignation. The punitive award against the manager was reduced to $10,000 on the same basis. The Court of Appeal did not alter the findings of liability. It held that liability was justified given Wal-Mart’s refusal to take the employer’s complaints seriously, its dismissal of her complaints as unsubstantiated despite substantial evidence to the contrary, its unwillingness to discipline the manager or intervene to stop his continuing mistreatment of the plaintiff, its threatened reprisal against her and its contravention of its own workplace policies.
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