Fired long-term employee gets more than $800,000

Jury gives largest punitive damages award in Canadian employment law history
By Ronald Minken
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 09/05/2012

A jury of the British Columbia Supreme Court has awarded an employee more than $800,000 in damages after he was terminated without notice after 34 years of service.

In Higginson v. Babine Forest Products Ltd., the employee, Larry Higginson, was employed at a sawmill operated by Babine Forest Products for more than 30 years when the sawmill was purchased by Hampton Lumber Mills. After the sale, Higginson continued to work at the sawmill for three more years until he was terminated, allegedly for cause, in October 2009. At the time of termination, Higginson was not provided with any notice. As a result, he commenced legal proceedings against both Hampton Lumber Mills and the former owner of the sawmill, Babine Forest Products, for damages for wrongful dismissal as well as punitive damages.

A three-week trial unfolded and a jury determined that Higginson had been wrongfully dismissed from his employment and that there was no merit to the allegations of cause raised by the employers. The jury awarded Higginson approximately $809,000 in damages, including $236,000 for pay in lieu of reasonable notice and $573,000 in punitive damages due to the employers’ improper conduct in terminating Higginson’s employment. The punitive damages were for Hapton’s misconduct in the dismissal, such as making unsupported allegations of cause and using those allegations to justify the lack of notice for dismissal. The damages awarded in this case represent the largest punitive damages award in an employment law case in Canada.