Many disgruntled employees have thought about writing angry letters to their “horrible bosses” which could amount to just cause termination. One such employee, Ms. Bennett, a Mississauga lawyer, accused her employer, Ms. Cunningham, of taking credit for work she completed and billing clients for time Ms. Bennett spent on files. Ms. Bennett paid the ultimate price for a letter calling her employer dishonest and negligent; she was fired from her position without notice. In response to the termination, Ms. Bennett brought a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal. Bennett v. Cunningham went through three levels of court, ending unsuccessfully for Ms. Bennett at the Court of Appeal.
The trial judge found just cause for termination based on highly critical comments made against the operation of the law office and the integrity of the employer. As a result, the trial judge held that Ms. Cunningham had just cause for termination without notice. The Divisional Court on appeal reversed the trial judgment for failure to use a contextual approach that considers the circumstances surrounding the conduct as well at the nature and degree of conduct. On a further appeal, the Court of Appeal restored the decision of the trial judge of just cause termination.
The lesson from Bennett v. Cunningham is that employment law and actions for wrongful dismissal are not black and white. Three levels of court were asked to determine if an angry letter to a boss amounted to just cause termination. In addition, this case should be used as a precautionary tale for disgruntled employees to think twice of the consequences of hasty actions.
For further information or assistance in regards to just cause for termination or employment law, please contact any of our Employment Law Lawyers.