Boucher v. Wal-Mart Canada Corp. et al., (2014) 318 O.A.C. 256 (CA)

JudgeHoy, A.C.J.O., Laskin and Tulloch, JJ.A.
CourtCourt of Appeal (Ontario)
Case DateOctober 07, 2013
JurisdictionOntario
Citations(2014), 318 O.A.C. 256 (CA);2014 ONCA 419

Boucher v. Wal-Mart (2014), 318 O.A.C. 256 (CA)

MLB headnote and full text

Temp. Cite: [2014] O.A.C. TBEd. MY.037

Meredith Boucher (plaintiff/respondent) v. Wal-Mart Canada Corp. and Jason Pinnock (defendants/appellants)

(C56243; C56262; 2014 ONCA 419)

Indexed As: Boucher v. Wal-Mart Canada Corp. et al.

Ontario Court of Appeal

Hoy, A.C.J.O., Laskin and Tulloch, JJ.A.

May 22, 2014.

Summary:

Boucher sued Wal-Mart and its employee, Pinnock, for constructive dismissal and for damages.

The Ontario Superior Court, sitting with a jury, found that Boucher had been constructively dismissed and awarded her damages equivalent to 20 weeks salary, as specified in her employment contract. The jury also awarded her damages of $1.2 million against Wal-Mart, ($200,000 in aggravated damages for the manner in which she was dismissed, and $1 million in punitive damages). The jury also awarded damages of $250,000 against Pinnock ($100,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering, and $150,000 in punitive damages). On appeal, Pinnock and Wal-Mart challenged both their liability for and the amount of damages for intentional infliction of mental suffering, aggravated damages and punitive damages. Boucher cross-appealed against Wal-Mart, asking for $726,601 to compensate her for her loss of income until retirement.

The Ontario Court of Appeal, Hoy, A.C.J.O. dissenting in part, upheld the award of $100,000 against Pinnock for intentional infliction of mental suffering, and the aggravated damages award of $200,000 against Wal-Mart. The Court allowed the appeals on punitive damages and reduced the award against Pinnock from $150,000 to $10,000 and the award against Wal-Mart from $1 million to $100,000. "Especially in the light of the significant compensatory awards against each appellant, those amounts are all that is rationally required to punish Pinnock and Wal-Mart and to denounce and deter their conduct." The Court dismissed Boucher's cross-appeal. The trial judge correctly ruled that as Boucher had not suffered a loss of earning capacity, her loss of future income claim was limited to the amount provided for in her employment contract. In dissent, Hoy, A.C.J.O., would have reduced the aggravated damages awarded against Wal-Mart from $200,000 to $25,000.

Damage Awards - Topic 2411

Aggravated damages - Wrongful dismissal - The plaintiff successfully sued Wal-Mart and its employee (Pinnock) for constructive dismissal - The jury awarded her $200,000 in aggravated damages against Wal-Mart, for the manner in which she was dismissed - The jury also awarded damages of $100,000 against Pinnock for intentional infliction of mental suffering - On appeal, Wal-Mart submitted that the award of aggravated damages was excessive and unprecedented in Canadian employment law - The Ontario Court of Appeal, Hoy, A.C.J.O., dissenting, refused to interfere with the award - "As was the tort award against Pinnock, this award against Wal-Mart is very high, reflecting the jury's strong disapproval of its conduct. ... In the light of Wal-Mart's conduct, I am not persuaded that the jury's view of the amount is so plainly unreasonable that it ought to be reduced." - See paragraphs 76 and 77 - In dissent, Hoy, A.C.J.O., would have reduced the aggravated damages from $200,000 to $25,000 - See paragraphs 114 to 124.

Damages - Topic 1326

Exemplary or punitive damages - Wrongful dismissal - The plaintiff successfully sued Wal-Mart and its employee, Pinnock, for constructive dismissal - The jury awarded $100,000 damages for Pinnock's intentional infliction of mental suffering, and $150,000 in punitive damages against Pinnock - The Ontario Court of Appeal reduced the punitive damages award from $150,000 to $10,000 - Pinnock's misconduct met the exceptional standard of malicious and oppressive conduct - However, to be upheld, the award "must, together with the compensatory award of $100,000, be rationally required to punish Pinnock. ... Thus, once the tort damages are upheld, we must ask whether an additional award of $150,000 is required for the purposes of retribution, denunciation and deterrence. In short, we must ask whether the jury's award is proportionate to these purposes. ... The award of tort damages against Pinnock is very high. The magnitude of this compensatory award carried a strong punitive component. ... An additional award of $150,000 against an individual employee is not rationally required to achieve these purposes or to punish Pinnock. To give modest effect to the jury's view of Pinnock's misconduct, an award of $10,000 in punitive damages would be appropriate." - See paragraphs 58 to 64.

Damages - Topic 1326

Exemplary or punitive damages - Wrongful dismissal - The plaintiff successfully sued Wal-Mart and its employee, Pinnock, for constructive dismissal - The jury awarded $1 million in punitive damages against Wal-Mart - On appeal, Wal-Mart submitted that the trial judge erred in her instructions to the jury on the requirement of an "independent actionable wrong" - The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed with the submission, but held that the error was harmless - "[T]he trial judge told the jury that the tort committed by Pinnock can be an actionable wrong by Wal-Mart that supports a punitive damages award against it. The problem with this instruction is that it punishes the employer for the employee's misconduct. It thus grounds the award of punitive damages against Wal-Mart solely on the basis that it is vicariously liable for Pinnock's wrong. ... And, ... the employer's reprehensible conduct must go beyond mere negligent conduct. Its conduct must itself be harsh, offensive or high-handed. ... The trial judge, however, never tied the requirement of an independent actionable wrong to Wal-Mart's own conduct." - However, the Court gave the error no effect - In substance, the jury found that Wal-Mart breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing towards the plaintiff - Moreover, the evidence reasonably supported the jury's finding that Wal-Mart's actions and its inaction were reprehensible - See paragraphs 79 to 85.

Damages - Topic 1326

Exemplary or punitive damages - Wrongful dismissal - The plaintiff successfully sued Wal-Mart and its employee, Pinnock, for constructive dismissal - The trial judge, sitting with a jury, awarded her damages equivalent to 20 weeks salary, as specified in her employment contract - The jury also awarded her damages of $1.2 million against Wal-Mart ($200,000 in aggravated damages for the manner in which she was dismissed, and $1 million in punitive damages) - Wal-Mart was vicariously liable for the $100,000 tort award against Pinnock - On appeal, Wal-Mart submitted that the $1 million punitive damages award was not rationally required to punish it or to give effect to denunciation and deterrence - The Ontario Court of Appeal accepted that submission and reduced the award to $100,000 - "The very high aggravated damages award by itself sends a significant denunciatory and punitive message and likely will have a deterrent effect. Additionally, although the jury was justified in finding Wal-Mart's misconduct sufficiently reprehensible to warrant an award of punitive damages, its misconduct falls far short of the gravity and duration of the misconduct in other cases that have attracted high punitive damages awards. ... Wal-Mart is already liable for significant compensatory damages. Its misconduct lasted less than six months. It did not profit from its wrong. And while it obviously maintained a power imbalance over [the plaintiff], it did not set out to force her resignation. In the light of these considerations, a punitive damages award of $100,000 on top of the compensatory damages it must pay is all that is rationally needed to punish Wal-Mart and denounce and deter its conduct." - See paragraphs 87 to 92.

Master and Servant - Topic 7704

Dismissal or discipline of employees - Damages for wrongful dismissal - Measure of damages for wrongful dismissal - At trial Boucher sought an award of damages for future loss of income in an amount that represented her loss of income until retirement age - She claimed that she suffered that loss because of Pinnock's tortious conduct (his intentional infliction of mental suffering) for which Wal-Mart was vicariously liable - However, the trial judge ruled and then instructed the jury that the claim for future loss of income was limited to the amount provided for in the employment contract (two weeks pay for every year of service, or 20 weeks) - The plaintiff cross-appealed on the ground that the trial judge erred in law in her ruling - The Ontario Court of Appeal held that the trial judge's ruling was correct - The plaintiff had recovered from Pinnock's tortious conduct in less than two months after she left Wal-Mart - She therefore did not suffer a loss of earning capacity - Thus, her claim for future loss of income was limited to the amount provided for in her employment contract - Wal-Mart paid her for eight months - "[The plaintiff] was entitled to be put in the position she would have been in if the contract had been performed: employment subject to dismissal in accordance with the terms of her contract. In her cross-appeal, however, she seeks to be put in a better position: lifetime employment. That she was not entitled to." - See paragraphs 95 to 108.

Master and Servant - Topic 7712

Dismissal of employees - Damages for wrongful dismissal - Punitive or vindictive damages - [See all Damages - Topic 1326 ].

Master and Servant - Topic 7713

Dismissal of employees - Damages for wrongful dismissal - Aggravated damages - The plaintiff successfully sued Wal-Mart and its employee (Pinnock) for constructive dismissal - The jury awarded her aggravated damages against Wal-Mart, for the manner in which she was dismissed - The jury also awarded damages against Pinnock for intentional infliction of mental suffering - On appeal, Wal-Mart contended that the trial judge erred in her charge because she failed to caution the jury against double recovery; i.e., that Pinnock's intentional infliction of mental suffering grounded both the tort award against him and the aggravated damages award against Wal-Mart - The Ontario Court of Appeal concluded that an award of aggravated damages against Wal-Mart was justified, and that the trial judge's charge did not cause an injustice - The caution requested on appeal was not requested by Wal-Mart's counsel at trial - "[T]he absence of an objection at trial weighs heavily against a party on appeal. That is especially so where the objection relates to an omission from the charge, as is the case here, not a misstatement of the law or evidence. Only if Wal-Mart could show that the absence of the caution it now seeks caused an injustice could it succeed on this branch of its appeal." - See paragraphs 65 to 75.

Master and Servant - Topic 8063

Dismissal without cause - Damages - Mental distress - Boucher successfully sued Wal-Mart and its employee, Pinnock, for constructive dismissal and for damages - The jury awarded Boucher damages of $100,000 for Pinnock's intentional infliction of mental suffering - On appeal, Boucher submitted that the amount awarded was excessive - The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the award - "Though very high, I am not persuaded that the $100,000 award against Pinnock is unreasonable. The harm Boucher incurred because of Pinnock's conduct was severe. She suffered serious physical symptoms. She went from a cheerful, productive worker to a broken and defeated employee, left with no reasonable alternative but to resign. Her symptoms eased only when Pinnock no longer controlled her environment. The jury represents the collective conscience of the community. The magnitude of their award shows that they were deeply offended by Pinnock's mistreatment of Boucher. We are not justified in substituting our own award unless we are satisfied the jury's award is so inordinately high to be plainly unreasonable. On this record I am not so satisfied." - See paragraphs 54 to 57.

Torts - Topic 8710

Duty of care - Particular relationships - Claims for nervous shock and emotional suffering - Intentional infliction of - The plaintiff successfully sued Wal-Mart and its employee, Pinnock, for constructive dismissal and for damages - The jury awarded damages for Pinnock's intentional infliction of mental suffering - On appeal, Pinnock challenged the award on the ground, among others, that the trial judge incorrectly instructed the jury on the proper elements of the tort - The trial judge told the jury: "In determining whether the conduct was calculated to produce harm, you must be satisfied that Mr. Pinnock either intended to produce the consequences or alternatively, ought to have known that the consequences were substantially certain to occur. ..." - The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed that the trial judge misstated the second element - The test is purely subjective - "The plaintiff cannot establish intentional infliction of mental suffering by showing only that the defendant ought to have known that harm would occur. The defendant must have intended to produce the kind of harm that occurred or have known that it was almost certain to occur." - However, Pinnock's trial counsel did not object to the charge at trial, after having been given the opportunity to consider and comment on the charge in advance - The error was inconsequential and did not result in an injustice - The evidence showed that Pinnock intended by his conduct to cause the very harm that occurred - See paragraphs 41 to 48.

Torts - Topic 8710

Duty of care - Particular relationships - Claims for nervous shock and emotional suffering - Intentional infliction of - Boucher successfully sued Wal-Mart and its employee, Pinnock, for constructive dismissal and for damages - The jury awarded Boucher damages for Pinnock's intentional infliction of mental suffering - On appeal, Pinnock challenged the award on the ground, among others, that no reasonable jury could have found him liable - The Ontario Court of Appeal held that the jury's finding of liability was reasonable - The evidence led at trial reasonably supported each of the three elements of the tort of intentional infliction of mental suffering - "Pinnock's conduct was flagrant and outrageous. He belittled, humiliated and demeaned Boucher continuously and unrelentingly, often in front of co-workers, for nearly six months." - He intended to produce the harm that eventually occurred (she resigned from her job) - Because of Pinnock's conduct, Boucher suffered a visible and provable illness - The stress of his conduct caused physical symptoms, confirmed by her family doctor - See paragraphs 49 to 53.

Cases Noticed:

Prinzo v. Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care (2002), 161 O.A.C. 302; 60 O.R.(3d) 474 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 41].

Piresferreira et al. v. Ayotte et al. (2010), 263 O.A.C. 347; 319 D.L.R.(4th) 665; 2010 ONCA 384, leave to appeal refused (2011), 416 N.R. 399; 282 O.A.C. 399 (S.C.C.), refd to. [para. 43].

G.K. v. D.K. (1999), 122 O.A.C. 36 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 47].

Marshall v. Watson Wyatt & Co. (2002), 155 O.A.C. 103; 57 O.R.(3d) 813 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 47].

Housen v. Nikolaisen et al., [2002] 2 S.C.R. 235; 286 N.R. 1; 219 Sask.R. 1; 272 W.A.C. 1; 2002 SCC 33, refd to. [para. 49].

Hill v. Church of Scientology of Toronto and Manning, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 1130; 184 N.R. 1; 84 O.A.C. 1, refd to. [para. 54].

Whiten v. Pilot Insurance Co. et al., [2002] 1 S.C.R. 595; 283 N.R. 1; 156 O.A.C. 201; 2002 SCC 18, refd to. [para. 54].

Vorvis v. Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1085; 94 N.R. 321, refd to. [para. 58, footnote 2].

Keays v. Honda Canada Inc., [2008] 2 S.C.R. 362; 376 N.R. 196; 239 O.A.C. 299; 2008 SCC 39, refd to. [paras. 66, 115].

Blackwater et al. v. Plint et al., [2005] 3 S.C.R. 3; 339 N.R. 355; 216 B.C.A.C. 24; 356 W.A.C. 24; 2005 SCC 58, refd to. [para. 82].

671122 Ontario Ltd. v. Sagaz Industries Canada Inc. et al. (2000), 128 O.A.C. 46; 183 D.L.R.(4th) 488 (C.A.), revd. in part [2001] 2 S.C.R. 983; 274 N.R. 366; 150 O.A.C. 12; 2001 SCC 59, refd to. [para. 82].

Pate v. Galway-Cavendish (Township) et al. (2013), 312 O.A.C. 244; 2013 ONCA 669, refd to. [para. 88].

M.B. v. British Columbia, [2003] 2 S.C.R. 477; 309 N.R. 375; 187 B.C.A.C. 161; 307 W.A.C. 161; 2003 SCC 53, refd to. [para. 102].

Lazare v. Harvey et al., [2008] O.A.C. Uned. 693; 2008 ONCA 171, refd to. [para. 102].

Authors and Works Noticed:

Waddams, Stephen M., The Law of Damages (2nd Ed.) (2013 Looseleaf Update), p. 11-29 [para. 82].

Counsel:

J. Gardner Hodder and Stefan De Smit, for the appellant, Jason Pinnock;

John D.R. Craig and Christina E. Hall, for the appellant, Wal-Mart Canada Corp.;

Myron W. Shulgan and Claudio Martini, for the respondent.

This appeal and cross-appeal were heard on October 7, 2013, before Hoy, A.C.J.O., Laskin and Tulloch, JJA., of the Ontario Court of Appeal. The Court delivered the following judgment and reasons for judgment, dated May 22, 2014:

Laskin, J.A. (Tulloch, J.A., concurring) - see paragraphs 1 to 113;

Hoy, A.C.J.O., dissenting in part - see paragraphs 114 to 124.

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