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I Thought You Were Pushing Me Out – BC Court Finds Employee’s Erroneous Beliefs Not Constructive Dismissal

This post was co-authored by Michelle Quinn and Catriona Chevalier, summer student.

This post will take less than 5 minutes to read.

The Facts

In Baraty v. Wellons Canada Corp., 2019 BCSC 33, Reza Baraty (“Mr. Baraty”) claimed he had been constructively dismissed from Wellons Canada Corp (“Wellons”) on June 2, 2017. Mr. Baraty worked for Wellons for approximately 7 years as the chief estimator. Cris Corilla (“Mr. Corilla”) was the only other person who worked in the estimation department with Mr. Baraty. The two men had a strained relationship that had required intervention by Wellons on a number of occasions.

Mr. Baraty claimed he had been constructively dismissed for two reasons. First, he believed incoming changes to the estimation department substantially changed his employment. From his perspective, the department no longer existed, and therefore his position as the head of that department no longer existed either.

Second, Mr. Baraty believed a series of events that had occurred at work indicated Wellons no longer intended to be bound by Mr. Baraty’s employment contract. Such events included his beliefs that Wellons had failed to put an end to Mr. Corilla’s bullying and harassment, and attempts to get him to retire prematurely.

The Issues

The primary issues before the Court were twofold:

  1. whether Mr. Baraty was constructively dismissed from his position as chief estimator with Wellons, either as a result of:
    a) a change in or elimination of his role as chief estimator?
    b) failing to protect him from being subject to an intolerable work environment?
  2. if yes, what would be the appropriate notice period?

The Decision

The Court considered the legal principles underlying a claim for constructive dismissal and applied the two “branches” of constructive dismissal that were identified in the leading case of Potter v. New Brunswick Legal Aid Commission, 2015 SCC 10 to determine whether Mr. Baraty had been constructively dismissed.

The first branch occurs when a single act breaches an essential term of an employment contract. The test under this branch is whether there has been a breach of the employment contract and whether that breach substantially altered the employment contract.

Mr. Baraty’s position was that an email from his general manager explaining that the estimation department was not its own department, but was part of the sales department, established that Wellons had eliminated his department and his position.

After considering all of the evidence, the Court found that prior situations in the office had led Mr. Baraty to misunderstand the email in question. The Court found that the general manager’s email actually confirmed the continued existence of Mr. Baraty’s position as chief estimator.

[80] The plaintiff’s role as chief estimator was neither eliminated nor fundamentally changed. The plaintiff was therefore not entitled to treat his contract of employment as having being breached by the defendant.

Consequently, Mr. Baraty failed to prove that he had been constructively dismissed under the first branch.

The second branch is when a series of acts, taken together, show that the employer no longer intends to be bound by the employment contract. The test under this second branch is whether there has been conduct that would lead a reasonable person to conclude, in light of all of the circumstances, that the employer no longer intends to be bound by the employment contract.

Mr. Baraty’s position was that Mr. Corilla was insubordinate and rude and that Wellons did not take sufficient or appropriate action to stop Mr. Corilla’s behaviour because, he believed, the company wanted Mr. Baraty to retire so it could promote Mr. Corilla. The Court disagreed with Mr. Baraty’s characterization of the situation, and found that Wellons handled Mr. Baraty’s complaints about Mr. Corilla quickly and appropriately by conducting independent investigations, speaking with other employees and giving warnings to Mr. Corilla.

Mr. Justice Wilson commented that:

The communications between the two were often curt and terse and often did not have a friendly tone. However, each contributed to the dysfunctional relationship. Viewed objectively, there was no harassment or bullying by Mr. Corilla and the workplace was not poisoned such that the plaintiff could not perform the functions of his job.

Additionally, the Court accepted Wellons’ inquiries regarding Mr. Baraty’s retirement plans had to do with business planning and not with any attempt to push him out. As a result, Mr. Baraty also failed to prove he had been constructively dismissed under the second branch.

His claim for constructive dismissal was dismissed and as such, it was not necessary for the Court to address the appropriate notice period.

Constructive dismissal law is complex and whether an employee has in fact been constructively dismissed will depend on the individual and unique facts.

If you have any questions regarding constructive dismissal, please contact either myself at mquinn@rbs.ca, or any other member of our Employment & Human Rights Group.