“Bogus allegations” see $800,000 payout in wrongful dismissal case

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A jury has shown employers the risk of acting unfairly towards their employees by awarding more than $800,000 to a sawmill manager terminated in 2009.

With interest and court costs factored in, joint defendants Hampton Lumber Mills and Babine Forest Products are facing a bill of more than $1m after a jury found the company’s had concocted allegations so they could claim just cause in firing long-time sawmill electrical manager Larry Higginson without notice or severance.

Higginson worked at the sawmill for more than 30 years when it was sold to Oregon based Hampton Lumber Mills in 2006, and continued to work for them until October 2009 when he was fired. According to allegations from the claimant, the company attempted to make working conditions so unpleasant that long-serving employees would quit. When this didn’t work in Higginson’s case, they allegedly let him go on trumped up charges.

"The strategy was either to make their jobs miserable so they would quit or to terminated them without notice or pay and for them to litigate in order to seek compensation," the claim stated.

The scheme backfired on the company, which now has one appeal left in the case. Higginson was awarded $236,000 compensation (about two years’ wages) and another $573,000 in punitive damages.

The punitive damages – which are more than double the previous high – sends a signal that if employers treat people unfairly in dismissing them, they could end up paying more, Murray Tevlin, a partner in TevlinGleadle, which represented Higginson, said.

"Instead of just being fair with him and paying him severance and treating him with respect, we argued they tried to make his job so impossible and unpleasant he would quit. That way they wouldn't have to pay him severance," Tevlin told the Vancouver Sun. "When that didn't work, they made up bogus allegations [so they could fire him]."

Witnesses were called to show the company had a pattern of doing this with other employees, Tevlin said.


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