Ontario Court of Appeal upholds summary judgment decision dismissing claim for constructive dismissal and breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code

June 21, 2021

De Palma v. Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 2021 ONCA 406

In a June 9, 2021 decision, Justices Fairburn A.C.J.O., Harvison Young and Jamal JJ.A. of the Court of Appeal for Ontario upheld the dismissal of a motion for summary judgement concerning a former employee’s (“Appellant”) claim for among other things, constructive dismissal against his former employer, the Respondent, Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

The Statement of Claim for wrongful dismissal and discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code was filed in 2018. In his Claim, the Appellant, who had been employed with the Respondent for approximately 20 years, alleged that the Respondent constructively dismissed him from his position by letter dated May 27, 2016, and that the Respondent failed to accommodate him when it requested better medical documentation in support of his request for accommodation. The Appellant also claimed punitive and mental distress damages arising from his alleged constructive dismissal.

The Respondent brought a summary judgment motion to dismiss the Appellant’s Claim.

The Appellant opposed the summary judgment motion on the basis that a trial would provide a flavour of his conversations with his former employer, and that his subjective view of those communications were important to be explored at a trial. In response, the Respondent argued that the facts set out in the written correspondence exchanged with the Appellant demonstrated that there was no genuine issue requiring a trial. In particular, the Respondent argued that the documentary evidence showed that the employer’s requests for better medical documentation were reasonable, and that it was the Appellant who refused to cooperate, insisting that the brief doctor’s note that he had already submitted was adequate. Ultimately the Appellant applied for and was approved long term disability benefits. He was away on an approved leave of absence for just under two years when he commenced his wrongful dismissal action.

The motion judge reviewed the evidence and was satisfied that the case was appropriate for summary judgment. She agreed with the Respondent that there was no genuine issue requiring a trial. The motion judge accordingly dismissed the action and awarded the Respondent $22,000 in costs.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal agreed with the motion judge that there was no genuine issue requiring a trial with respect to the Appellant’s claims and concluded that the Respondent made reasonable efforts to attempt to accommodate the Appellant’s disability. The Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and awarded the Respondent $20,000 for the costs of the appeal.

Nafisah Chowdhury (Labour & Employment) represented the successful Respondent in the summary judgment motion and the appeal.