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B.C. woman fired after 'strongly worded' email wins $81K for wrongful termination


A B.C. woman who was fired over one "strongly worded" email has been awarded $81,100 in compensation for wrongful dismissal, according to a supreme court decision.

Construction company Gisborne Holdings Ltd. was found to have terminated Kavita Lefebvre without cause in 2022. After a trial earlier this year, the judge determined that email in question did not constitute the sort of "egregious misconduct" that justifies firing a worker for cause.

"Summary dismissal was not a proportionate response to the email, which I find did not rise to the level of insubordination. The email was direct and strongly worded, but it was not rude or unprofessional," Justice Julianne Lamb wrote in a decision posted online Wednesday.

The court heard that Lefebvre was hired on an 18-month contract as an administrator to cover a parental leave.

However, she was fired about six weeks after she started the job after the human resources manager and Lefebvre's direct supervisor "took issue with the tone and content" of an email she sent.

The company argued that the email in question – which is not reproduced in full in the court documents – caused "an irreconcilable breakdown of the employment relationship," the decision says.

The decision lays out the circumstances leading up to the email, describing how there was some tension and conflict in the working relationship, but notes that there was no record of Lefebvre being disciplined at any point prior to her firing and there was no record of anyone following up on the email with a warning or reprimand of any kind.

Lamb explained that the company has a written policy of "progressive discipline," which requires a formal warning and a suspension prior to termination.

"I am not suggesting that Gisborne was not entitled to move right to termination in certain circumstances; however, the fact that Gisborne has a progressive discipline policy that it did not make any attempt to follow after one objectionable email is a factor that suggests Gisborne’s response to the email was not proportionate," Lamb wrote.

"Gisborne was not able to direct the court to any cases in which analogous conduct was found to justify termination," the judge continued.

The judge said the most "objectionable" parts of Lefebvre's email were an allegation that her supervisor engaged in “at best, a deliberate misdirection” and other parts that could be argued to have amounted to "implicit criticism" of the supervisor's behaviour.

Other parts, such as Lefebvre asking to discuss her pay in light of what she understood to be demands that she perform duties outside of her job description, were found to have been reasonable in the circumstances.

"It is not insubordination for an employee to ask to discuss their compensation," the decision said.

The conclusion of the email, according to Lamb, also showed a willingness and intent to continue and improve the working relationship.

"My expectation is that all parties concerned will be held to the same standard, and that the courtesy, honesty, and accountability that I extend will be reciprocated. I too, look forward to positive outcomes and to cordial and professional working relationships and it is my hope that we all work towards this," the email is quoted as saying.

In order for a worker to be fired for cause, the court needs to find that the conduct is "so egregious as to effectively render continuation of the employment relationship impossible," the judge explained.

"In my view, the email cannot reasonably be described as 'egregious' misconduct," Lamb concluded.

The amount of damages awarded reflects what Lefebvre would have earned if she worked the full term of her contract.

The judge declined to award any punitive damages, saying what the company did was not "reprehensible and worthy of censure." Top Stories

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