Justice Tremblay-Lamer of the Federal Court upheld the decision of an adjudicator acting under the Canada Labour Code to award an unjustly dismissed First Nations Band employee $85,000 in aggravated damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.

Vincent Joseph worked for the Tl’azt’en First Nation for more than 30 years; lastly serving as the Director of the health department. The adjudicator found that the chain of events relevant to his unjust dismissal began when, along with two senior managers, he criticized the management style of the Executive Director of the Band.

The adjudicator further found that following this criticism, the Executive Director threatened and harassed the respondent with allegations of fraud, mismanagement, and insubordination. Mr. Joseph was compelled to take medical leave as a result of the mental and physical strain put on him by the harassing behaviour of the Executive Director. The harassment continued during the medical leave. Mr. Joseph’s personal and professional reputation in the community was all but destroyed after the Executive Director spread similar allegations throughout the community.

The respondent was later terminated without notice or compensation by the Tl’azt’en First Nation. He challenged his dismissal and the adjudicator concluded that Mr. Joseph was unjustly dismissed.

The adjudicator awarded Mr. Joseph $85,000 in aggravated damages to compensate him for damages to his future prospects of employment, his physical and mental well-being, his integrity and dignity, and his personal and professional reputation. Punitive damages of $100,000 were awarded to Mr. Joseph for the reprehensibly dishonest manner of his dismissal in bad faith by the Tl’azt’en First Nation.

The Tl’azt’en First Nation brought this application for judicial review of the decision of the adjudicator to determine whether or not the adjudicator’s award of $85,000 in aggravated damages was reasonable and whether or not the adjudicator’s award of $100,000 in punitive damages was reasonable. The appropriate standard of review of both questions was reasonableness.

The applicant challenged the award of aggravated damages on two grounds. First, it submitted that the adjudicator did not assess the actual damages suffered by the respondent as a result of the manner of his dismissal. Second, it put forward a theory that damages recoverable from a First Nations Band for the unjust dismissal of an employee are lower compared to other employers.

Justice Tremblay-Lamer found that in awarding aggravated damages the adjudicator considered Mr. Joseph’s had suffered and found that his injuries were of a type recognized in case law as appropriate for an award of aggravated damages. Second, she found that the amount of $85,000 in aggravated damages was consistent with analogous case law. Justice Tremblay-Lamer stated:

“Although the applicant argued that damages recoverable from a first nations band for the unjust dismissal of an employee were different than the damages recoverable from employers generally, there is no case law to support this assertion.”

For these reasons the Federal Court found that the adjudicator’s decision to award $85,000 in aggravated damages was reasonable.

The applicant submitted that the adjudicator had erred in awarding punitive damages because he made no concluding statements regarding punitive damages, did not make a finding of an independent actionable wrong, and did not perform any rationality or proportionality analysis.

On review, Justice Tremblay-Lamer found that the adjudicator reviewed the leading case law on punitive damages and properly examined the circumstances of the case including the blameworthiness of the employer, the vulnerability of the employee, the deliberate harm directed at the employee, and the need for deterrence. For these reasons the adjudicator’s decision to award $100,000 in punitive damages was held to be reasonable.

Decision available here.

Charles Vincent


Other Author

Jennifer Radford


Aboriginal Law