A record award of $1.46 million in damages to a former employee of Mississauga-based Walmart Canada who was mentally abused by her store manager will unquestionably raise awareness of bullying in the workplace, employment experts say. “It gives organizations greater awareness of the need to take action when it comes to issues of bullying and mistreatment,” said Aaron Schat, an associate professor of human resources at the DeGroote School of Business.
Meredith Boucher, a former assistant manager at a Walmart store in Windsor, claimed she was subjected to profane and demeaning abuse by her store manager over a six-month period in 2009, including being called “a (expletive) idiot” and being made to count skids in front of others to prove she could count.
A Windsor jury decided earlier this month that Boucher should receive several hundred thousand dollars more than the $1.2 million she had sued for — making the award the largest punitive damages handed down to date in Canada for an employment suit. The Walmart manager — Jason Pinnock — now manages the Ancaster Walmart.
Pinnock said he has been directed not to speak about the case. Pinnock testified in court that he didn’t act improperly toward Boucher, The Windsor Star reported.
Walmart said the company is “disappointed with the decision and surprised by the highly exceptional damages awarded.”
“We are reviewing the decision in detail and will consider all options, including the possibility of an appeal,” said Alex Roberton, director of corporate affairs and social media at the Canadian head office in Mississauga.
The jury decided Boucher was constructively dismissed, forced to resign due to abusive treatment. The 42-year-old, who is still unemployed, left the store in November 2009.
The Windsor Star reported that her lawyer argued in court that Boucher was subjected to intentional infliction of mental suffering and assaulted by an assistant manager who punched her in the arm two days in a row. The assistant manager was fired.
Walmart would not discuss Pinnock’s current circumstances in Hamilton, or describe whether he has received retraining or “coaching,” a Walmart human resources term.
“Walmart is built on a culture that insists on respect for the individual at all times, without exception, and we will continue to promote respect in every area of our operation,” it said in a statement.
The Windsor Star also reported that three additional statements of claim against Pinnock, and the executive who succeeded him, have been filed by former female employees of the Windsor store, alleging abusive treatment.
Hamilton employment lawyer Ed Canning said he believes the amount of the award “will likely be overturned, because it’s just right outside any precedent in Canadian law.”
But, he said, it would still be a significant award, one that will add to the increasing recognition by employers of the need to control workplace harassment.
“There’s no specific regime set out in the law anywhere about what a company should do if they have a management employee who’s been abusive of employees,” Canning said.
“But if it happens again, and they’re sued again, and a judge or jury is told that this is a manager with a history of abuse, and there hasn’t been any retraining or corrective action, it’s probably going to aggravate and increase the damages awarded against him.”