Court orders extraordinary damages for harassed RCMP officer
Historically, it has been extremely difficult for an employee, particularly one who is still employed, to get damages for harassment. The recent decision of Merrifield v the Attorney General, suggests that this may be changing.
The trial judge in Merrifield found that an RCMP officer, Peter Merrifield, was ruthlessly harassed by his superiors. The employer’s actions included aggressive behaviour, an unwarranted investigation, and a punitive transfer. The transfer, in particular, was criticized by the Court as it resulted in a permanent stain on Mr. Merrifield’s reputation and hindered future advancement opportunities. Mr. Merrifield developed depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In determining the amount of compensation that Mr. Merrifield was owed, the Court noted that Mr. Merrifield took multiple sick leaves, isolated himself from his family, and became immobile to the point that he developed bed sores. The Court ordered the Attorney General to pay Mr. Merrifield $100,000 as compensation for the harassment and mental suffering that he experienced and $41,000 in lost wages for delayed advancement.
This is a positive case for employees who have been harassed in the workplace. However, the Court set a high test for harassment. Specifically:
- Was the conduct of the defendant(s) outrageous?
- Did the defendant(s) intend to cause emotional stress or did they have a reckless disregard for causing the plaintiff to suffer from emotional stress?
- Did the plaintiff suffer from severe or extreme emotional distress?
- Was the outrageous conduct of the defendant(s) the actual and proximate cause of the emotional distress?
It is also yet to be seen whether this case will stand. On March 30, 2017, the Federal government submitted a notice of appeal. The appeal date has not been set.
Millard & Company has extensive experience obtaining compensation for employees whose rights in the workplace have been breached, including due to harassment. Contact us to discuss your options.
By Mika Imai; photo by Richard Eriksson, used under creative commons commercial license.