Greenhawk Harness & Equestrian Supplies, a tack store with locations across Canada, faces a lawsuit filed by two employees whose dismissal coincided with the same week they both assisted police with a murder investigation in Orangeville.
Upon arriving at the store’s parking lot, the two employees, Valerie Whiteside and Kim Tait, found a blood-stained vehicle, and called the police. The vehicle belonged to Sonia Varaschin, an Orangeville nurse who was reported missing that same day, August 29, 2010. The two employees continued working with police investigators throughout the week. Days later, on September 4, both employees were informed by their employer of company restructuring, resulting in their terminations.
Each employee is seeking $25,000 in damages for wrongful dismissal. Both had received good performance reviews, and feel they were terminated due to company concerns over possible negative publicity related to the murder investigation. Ms. Whiteside received one week’s severance pay and Ms. Tait received two week’s pay, both being the minimum required under the Employment Standards Act, 2000.
Company CEO Ian Russell says that the timing was purely coincidental, adding that another employee had seen the car earlier, cooperated with police, and is still employed for the company. He concludes that the two employees “used the timing opportunistically because they want more money.”
In their Statement of Claim, the two employees said that the company showed “utter contempt for their emotional state” following the gruesome discovery and investigation. They feel their dismissals were “unwarranted, malicious, harsh and could serve as a chilling effect to other employees who perform a public duty and assist police.” According to Ms. Whiteside, “This has affected our lives on so many levels and there was not an ounce of concern or compassion.”
The company has not yet filed a Statement of Defence.
Points to Note
Greenhawk’s actions illustrate how, even if legitimate reasons exist for dismissing an employee, a company could be faced with a claim for wrongful dismissal, or for damages due to carrying out a dismissal in a malicious or insensitive manner, or if poorly timed. Employers should seek legal advice prior to making termination decisions.
Minken Employment Lawyers is your source for expert advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues.
For more details, see: The Toronto Star (Lawsuit claims company fired workers for helping with a murder investigation, by Isabel Teotonio, September 23 2010).