The HR Space: You No Longer Trust Your Employee: Beware Of What It Could Cost You!

Author:Ms Louise Béchamp
Profession:Fasken Martineau
 
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The HR Space is edited by Louise Béchamp, Karen M. Sargeant and Brian P. Smeenk.

As a Québec employer recently learned, an alleged breach in the relationship of trust between employer and employee must be supported by objective evidence and facts if it is to form cause for termination of employment. In Senécal vs. CEGEP du Vieux Montréal, 2012 QCCS 1995 (PDF - available only in French), in the absence of this evidence, the employer was ordered to pay significant damages to Francine Senécal ("Senécal") following her termination on this ground.

The Facts

Very succinctly, the facts are as follows:

In 2001, Senécal left her career in post secondary education to enter into municipal politics. She was elected as a counselor for the City of Montréal and became Vice-President of the City's Executive Committee. Throughout her term in office, Senécal's spouse worked in a senior management position for the City's housing and development corporation (called in French, the "Société d'habitation et de développement de Montréal" or "SHDM"). After 7 years in public life, Senécal decided she wanted to resume her career and applied for the position of director general of the CEGEP du Vieux Montréal1 (the "CEGEP"). Senécal was the successful candidate. She received confirmation in October 2008 of her appointment for a 5 year term, to begin in January 2009. Senécal therefore resigned from public office.

In the days immediately following her resignation, an article was published in a Montréal newspaper that raised serious doubts about the integrity and management of her spouse at the SHDM. It alluded to possible links with certain notorious individuals. The article further referenced the "sudden" resignation of Senécal from her position as Vice-President of the City's Executive Committee as if the two matters were related.

As a result of the article, the CEGEP became worried about its own reputation. Its officials met with Senécal and asked her to confirm that she was never in conflict of interest while in municipal office. Senécal reassured them in several ways. including legal opinions and a signed affidavit. Notwithstanding, the CEGEP withdrew her appointment before employment even commenced. It alleged that the relationship of trust no longer existed. The CEGEP publicly announced its decision.

Senécal sued the CEGEP. She claimed $720,000 in damages for the loss of the 5 year contract, plus $250,000 for loss of reputation and $150,000 in other damages.

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