In a recent ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal reduced the wrongful dismissal award of a 70 year old employee by 6 months.
In the case of Kotecha v Affinia Canada ULC (2014 ONCA 411). The Court reduced the motion judge’s award of a 24 and one-half months to 18 months on the basis that "there were no exceptional circumstances that would justify" the longer award.
Affinia is a manufacturer of auto parts. Kotecha was 70 years old and had worked for Affinia for 20 years as a machine operator. He installed rivets on brake pads. At the time of his dismissal, Kotecha was earning $18.23/hour. Based on a 40 hour work week, this wage equated to approximately $38,000.00 per year.
Affinia admitted that Kotecha was dismissed without cause. Kotecha brought a motion for a summary judgment to fix the length of the notice requirement and his damages.
At the motion, the judge considered the factors in Bardal v. Globe and Mail Ltd as set out by the Supreme Court of Canada i.e. the character of the employment, length of service, age of the employee and the availability of similar employment having regard to the experience training and qualifications of the employee. The judge concluded that this was a simple case of wrongful dismissal and having regard to other cases with similar facts, fixed the notice period at 22 months. Her ruling did not include the 11 weeks of working notice that Affinia had given Kotecha.
Affinia appealed to the Court of Appeal. Before the appeal court, Affinia argued that the motion judge had erred in disregarding an unreported judgment of another judge in a case against it (Sharma v Affinia Canada) and that on almost identical facts, that judge in that case had awarded 13 months as reasonable notice. Affinia argued that the motion judge was bound by the doctrine of stare decisis to award a similar period of reasonable notice in this case.
The Court of Appeal rejected that argument. It reiterated that the principle of stare decisis required that courts render decisions that are consistent with the previous decisions of higher courts. While other decisions of the Superior Court are persuasive, they are not binding. Moreover, the Court held that the determination of the appropriate notice period is a very fact-specific exercise and is calculated in accordance with numerous factors set out in Bardal.
However, the Court held that judges should strive to ensure that notice periods, which are inherently individual, are consistent with the case law. The Court found that was not done in this case. Taking into account the period of working notice that Affinia had given Mr. Kotecha, the total notice period awarded to him was 24 and ½ months. The Court held that this was excessive and that there were no exceptional circumstances that would justify the award. It did not accept Affinia’s position that a 13 month notice period was appropriate but rather “adjusted” the notice period to 18 months, less the working notice of 11 weeks.
The decision seems harsh given that, at 70 years old, Mr. Kotecha has virtually no chance of getting another job. One would have thought that his advanced age was an "exceptional circumstance" that would have persuaded the court to award a period of notice in the 20 to 24 month range.