Ontario Superior Court awards damages for Harassment in Landmark Case

In the realm of employment law, it isn’t at all uncommon for clients to advise that they have suffered harassment at the hands of their employer – but until now, it has been unheard of that a Court would award damages in such circumstances.

Case Study

Peter Merrifeld (Plaintiff) was an employee of the RCMP (Defendant) for 7 years before attending a nomination meeting for the Progressive Conservative Party in 2005. He claims that after this meeting took place, he suffered losses with respect to his reputation and career advancement, in addition to suffering emotional distress and mental suffering, all caused by his superiors in the RCMP. He claims that the losses were a direct result of his intention to run for political office.

After lengthy and complex litigation, Mr. Merrifeld was awarded $100,000 in general damages as a result of his emotional distress and mental suffering, as well as $41,000 in special damages for income loss. The Court determined that the Defendant’s conduct resulted in Mr. Merrifeld’s promotions being delayed.

What makes this case interesting is how the Court determined the award for the tort of harassment: Mr. Merrifeld’s employment was governed by statute, not by contract. As the Court found there could be no breach of contract, relief by way of aggravated damages was not an available remedy. This is likely why the Judge chose to analyze the Plaintiff’s claim for harassment – there were serious issues with the Defendant’s conduct that had to be addressed and penalized.

The question now becomes: when will Courts in BC recognize the tort of harassment upon which a civil action can be based? If there is a claim of harassment by an employee governed by statute, will this decision from Ontario lay the framework for similar outcomes in the Courts of British Columbia?