Nunavut court rules in QEC’s favour on ex-employee’s lawsuit
“Kucera was not constructively dismissed from her employment”
Sarah Kucera, a former employee of the Qulliq Energy Corp. who launched a lawsuit against the corporation in 2010, was not subjected to a constructive dismissal and therefore was not wrongfully dismissed, Justice Sue Cooper ruled in a judgment issued Jan. 20. (See embedded document below.)
Kucera, who was hired as executive assistant to the QEC’s president, Peter Mackey, on July 1, 2009, departed her job in August 2010, alleging the QEC subjected her to a constructive dismissal.
“Constructive dismissal” means a set of conditions, such as a hostile workplace or reduction of responsibilities, that puts an employee into a position where they have no choice but to quit.
The QEC, on the other hand, said Kucera effectively breached her employment contract and that they dismissed her for just cause.
The corporation did that after Kucera’s lawyer sent them a letter on Aug. 5, 2010, while Kucera was on medical leave, saying she wanted to quit her job and negotiate a severance package.
The QEC responded by saying that this letter meant she had “repudiated” her employment contract — and they dismissed her as of Aug. 20, 2010.
Kucera then launched a lawsuit against the QEC that sought about $440,000 in damages.
At a trial held at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit this past June, Kucera said her problems at the corporation began shortly after she started work.
The QEC’s director of human resources, Catherine Cronin, warned Kucera to be careful about sharing information with two other employees: former corporate secretary Amy Hynes and corporate counsel Calvin Clark.
Hynes also launched a lawsuit against QEC and, this past October, won $133,000 from the corporation following a trial in June.
Another problem, Kucera said, is that her job was downgraded by one level on the organization’s pay scale following a review of the organization’s structure that had begun before she started working for them.
This led her to believe that she had been “red-circled” — which means to be placed in a job category where there is no chance of future pay raises.
However, as of Jan. 1, 2010, she received a pay raise worth $6,332 a year and an additional $2,594 a year to compensate for extra duties she took on while covering the vacant corporate secretary job.
She also objected to remarks about her that Cronin had made in two emails.
In May of 2010, Mackey brought in a mediator to try to resolve Kucera’s employment complaints.
But the mediator was a person who reports to Cronin.
“Under such circumstances it is hardly surprising that Kucera felt that the mediation was a sham,” Cooper wrote in her judgment.
However, Cooper ruled that the incidents that Kucera described “fall far short of what is required to substantiate a claim of constructive dismissal based on a hostile working environment.”
She said, for example, that Kucera received special leave for a wedding and honeymoon, was allowed to take two trips to conferences outside of Nunavut, and received a salary advance to cover the cost of her move from Toronto in 2009.
And Cooper said that Kucera’s relationship with Cronin was not always stormy.
“Further, despite the difficulties between Kucera and the director of human resources, there were times when the relationship was both supportive and friendly,” Cooper said.
Cooper also found that Kucera had not been “red-circled” and she accepted evidence from QEC officials that Kucera could have qualified for future salary increases.
As for the Aug. 5 letter from Kucera’s lawyer, Cooper said the QEC had the right to dismiss her afterwards, saying the letter made it impossible for her superiors to maintain trust and confidence in her.
“Kucera was not constructively dismissed from her employment. The August 5, 2010 letter was a repudiation of the employment contact and QEC was entitled to accept it as such,” Cooper said.
And since their dismissal of Kucera was legally justified, there is no reason to rule on the question of wrongful dismissal, Cooper said.
As for who is responsible for paying court costs, Cooper said she will ask lawyers to provide either written submissions or speak to the issue at a later date.