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Tim Horton’s & the Case of the Toonie Theft

Tim Horton’s was in the news again recently, this time in relation to a 1999 dismissal of an employee it alleged had stolen a “toonie” and some other loose change from the cash register.  The employee was a single mother of four, who claimed that she was taking back a tip she had put into the til earlier in thee shift. The Court of Appeal today dismissed the employee’s appear from a jury decision that found in favour of the employer in a wrongful dismissal case.  The employer contacted the police, who charged her criminally, but that case was dismissed for lack of evidence. 

Do you think that an employer should be able to dismiss an employee for stealing $2?   Check out the Supreme Court’s discussion of that sort of question in the McKinley decision.

The employee sued Tim Hortons and the police for about $10 million, which was absurd given the facts.  The defendants had offered the employee 2 years’ salary to settle the case, but the employee refused.  That was obviously a very bad decision on her part.   Tim Hortons sought $170,000 and the police sought $113,000 in costs after they won at trial.  Since the woman obviously had no means to pay these amounts, it seems obvious to me that the police and TH were intending to scare the crap out of her (and any other potential future litigant).  Fortunately, the Ontario court refused to order costs, noting that:  “It is, I think, of the utmost importance to the administration of justice that the cost of litigation not go beyond the resources of persons of average means, which encompasses most of us. There are few individuals in Canada who could afford to pay the sums sought in this case for costs.”

What does this case tell us about the state of our system for adjudicating wrongful dismissal cases?  It took 10 years, cost the employer thousands of dollars in legal costs. and would have cost the employee nearly as much if she paid her legal fees (it’s not clear if her lawyer was paid).  The case clogged up the courts, and even if the employee had won, she would not have gotten her job back, since courts don’t reinstate employees.   In a unionized setting, this case would have been litigated before an arbitrator quickly.  The employee’s legal costs would have been paid by the union, the employer’s legal costs would have been substantially lower, the courts’ time would not have been wasted, and the employee could have gotten her job back if the employer could not prove “just cause”.  This sort of a system could be replicated for non-union employees at least in part by a statutory “unfair dismissal” model such as that provided under the Federal Canada Labour Code (s. 240-246).  Why do you think that most Canadian governments require employees to sue in court for wrongful dismissal rather than provide for a more informal, faster, and cheaper statutory unfair dismissal system?

 

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