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The Tort of Inducing Breach of the Employment Contract

I stumbled on an interesting recent case from Banff the other day.  Some employees of Sunshine Village ski resort were dismissed shortly after they caught the son of the owner skiing in a dangerous, out of bounds area.  They filed a wrongful dismissal case against Sunshine Village and a tort action against the owner’s son for “inducing breach of the employment contracts“.  The claim was that the son encouraged the father (employer) to dismiss the employees.

The son attempted to have the case dismissed against him as not disclosing a proper legal action.  The Master of the court refused to toss the case, finding that if the son did have something to do with the employees’ dismissal, then the tort may indeed be made out at trial. That case is called  Chevaliar v. Sunshine Village and Taylor.

The Master referenced as authority a 2007 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal called Drouillard v. Cogeco. Cogeco had an arrangement with a cable contractor called Mastec, but objected to Drouiallard working on Cogeco projects.  Drouillard had an employment contract with Mastec, but when Cogeco refused to accept him on their sites, Mastec fired Drouillard.

Drouillard sued Cogeco, alleging the tort of inducing breach of an employment contract.  He won.

The Court explained that the tort required Drouillard to prove 4 elements:

1.    There was a valid and enforceable contract between himself and Mastec;

2.    Congeco was aware of that contract;

3.   Cogeco intended to and did cause a breach of that contract;

4.   As a result, Drouillard suffered damages.

Elements 1, 2, and 4 were easily made out.  The real issue was whether Cogeco “intended to and did procure a breach” of the employment contract between Drouillard and Mastec.

The Court ruled that this element has also been made out.  This is interesting, because the breach of the contract was the ‘wrongful dismissal’ committed by Mastec, i.e. that it dismissed Drouillard without giving him proper notice required by the contract.  The wrongful dismissal action against Mastec had been settled by the time the Cogeco tort action reached the court, and the court was entitled to draw the inference that there had been a breach of contract.

Note that there was no evidence that Cogeco intended Mastec to fire Drouillard without giving him notice. However, the third element of the tort was satisfied because Cogeco had been indifferent about whether its refusal to accept Drouillard would result in his employment contract being breached:

Although there is no direct evidence that Cogeco wanted Mastec to terminate Drouillard’s employment without reasonable notice, it is clear from the trial judge’s findings that he was satisfied that Cogeco was not concerned about the terms of Drouillard’s termination and that Cogeco acted intending to cause a breach of Drouillard’s employment contract, or with substantial certainty that its conduct would result in a breach.

Cogeco was ordered to pay Drouillard $107,544 in damages for the tort. This case has implications for all companies that might consider denying a contractor the right to assign whichever employee they wish to a work site.

Here is a related question that I will consider in my next post later this week.  Can a business refuse to accept a worker sent by a contractor or placement agency because they don’t like that person’s religion, sex, or skin colour?

What if they don’t want someone known to be a strong union advocate?  Can a business tell a placement agency not to send over union supporters?

 

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