A recent Ontario case is a good example.
Ms. Strudwick worked for an employer that recruited individuals to participate in focus groups. She was paid $12.85 per hour and her duties involved data entry, and instructing recruiting staff.
In 2010, Ms. Strudwick became deaf. According to the trial judge: “…her employer’s attitude towards her and treatment of her became unconscionable. The plaintiff (employee) deposed she was constantly belittled, humiliated and isolated.” Among other things, the employer refused to accommodate her disability.
She was fired for just cause after more than 15 years’ service because at a Toastmaster’s meeting that was held at the workplace “she did not select a topic from those she had prepared or speak on any topic the requisite one or two minutes.”
The trial judge concluded she was not terminated for just cause, the employer refused to accommodate her disability, the termination caused Ms. Strudwick to suffer a medical disorder, and the employer treated Ms. Strudwick in a harsh and demeaning manner.
1. Wrongful dismissal damages
At the time she was terminated, Ms. Strudwick was 59 years old, had worked for almost 16 years, and held an administrative position. The judge ordered the employer to pay her 24 months’ pay in lieu of notice, and about $6,000 in lieu of lost benefits during that time.
2. Human rights damages
The judge awarded her $20,000 in general damages for the injury to her dignity and self-respect under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
3. Damages for intentional infliction of mental stress
The judge concluded that the employer’s conduct caused Ms. Strudwick to suffer an adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood which required psychological treatment and ordered the employer to pay her almost $19,000 for the cost of this treatment.
4. Punitive damages
The judge ordered $15,000 in punitive damages because he did not think the other damage awards adequately accomplished the objectives of “retribution, deterrence and denunciation.”
Lessons to be learned
- Disabled employees have additional legal rights. Accordingly, employers should make themselves aware of these rights. For more information on the rights of disabled employees, click here.
- Any request for accommodation should be taken very seriously and failure to do so can result in significant legal damages. For information on the duty to accommodate, click here.
- Trying to force an employee to quit – especially a disabled employee – can result in additional legal damages.
- Judges have the discretion to order an employer to pay a sympathetic employee many different types of damages. For more information on different types of wrongful dismissal damages, click here.
- Always consult with an employment lawyer before terminating a disabled employee.