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Employee’s “theory” that he was dismissed for questioning his employer’s safety systems was just a theory and was not evidence

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A judge in a recent wrongful dismissal action dismissed the plaintiff’s allegation that he was dismissed after making suggestions about improvements to the employer’s safety systems. The employee was a relatively short term employee (25 months), working as a Control Systems Specialist. His duties included designing, implementing and monitoring various control systems for machines manufactured by the employer.

The plaintiff testified that the employer had been involved in a fatality in California, involving one of its machines. As a result, the plaintiff claimed that he became concerned about the employer’s future liability and took it upon himself to do some research regarding safety systems. He sent an email to his general manager making suggestions, including a redesign of the system and a rewrite of the safety manual. The general manager had replied to say that the employer was looking for an expert, would be reviewing training methods, and that he was open to further discussion. He also stated that the employer’s goal was not to escape liability but rather, to “build machines that do not hurt people.” The day after this email exchange, the plaintiff was called into a meeting and terminated without cause. He was not given a reason and when he asked, he was told that the employer’s counsel had instructed it not to give a reason. He was escorted out of the office in a civil manner. The plaintiff followed up a few days later, again asking for a reason for his dismissal but the employer did not respond.

At trial, the plaintiff’s theory was that he was dismissed because he was questioning the employer’s safety systems. Other employees had told him he “wasn’t a good fit.” The employer denied that the reason for the plaintiff’s dismissal was his concern with the safety system. The general manager testified that the employer had been experiencing some financial challenges that resulted in 12 employees being dismissed, managers taking a salary cut, overtime hours being lost, and several projects being in jeopardy. He claimed that the timing of the dismissal the day after the plaintiff’s emails about his perceived safety issues was a coincidence and that the plaintiff was dismissed because he was not a good fit.

In addition to damages for reasonable notice of termination, the plaintiff claimed he was entitled to aggravated and punitive damages as a result of the manner in which he was dismissed. His evidence was largely related to the employer’s refusal to give him a reason for the dismissal and the timing with relation to his emails about the safety concerns. The judge found that the plaintiff’s theories were not supported by the evidence and were insufficient to justify an award of aggravated or punitive damages. The judge held that the employer’s conduct was not malicious and high-handed so as to warrant additional damages and dismissed that aspect of the plaintiff’s claim.

Dragos v. Hunterwood Technologies Ltd., 2018 ABPC 40