Court awards damages and an injunction to an employer for defamatory statements made by a former employee

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The Ontario Superior Court of Justice awarded damages, punitive damages and a permanent interlocutory injunction to an employer and two of its managers due to defamatory statements made by a former employee (hereinafter the “Defendant”) who had previously been dismissed for cause. Sébastien Huard and Justin Dubois, of Emond Harnden, were successful before the Court on behalf of the employer and two members of management (jointly referred to as the “Plaintiffs”).

The employer, the Association pour l’intégration sociale d’Ottawa, is a non-profit organization offering services within the City of Ottawa to French-speaking persons with an intellectual deficiency or developmental handicap. Following an incident, the employer dismissed the Defendant for having failed to comply with its policies and guidelines. Following the dismissal, the Defendant held demonstrations on numerous occasions in front of the employer’s head office alleging, among other things, that the Plaintiffs were acting unfairly and were racist and dishonest. During these demonstrations, the Defendant brought with her defamatory posters and left leaflets on the windshields of cars parked near the employer’s place of work and nailed leaflets to City of Ottawa trees in front of the employer’s head office, where members of the public and clients and employees of the employer were circulating. Due to these demonstrations and because the employer’s employees, clients and visitors felt threatened by the Defendant’s statements, the employer had to establish a security protocol for its clientele and employees during the demonstrations. The Defendant also sent several e-mails to employees of the employer and to other individuals, containing allegations of racism, dishonesty and lack of professionalism against the employer. Furthermore, the Defendant used her Twitter account to tweet offensive messages about the employer.

With respect to written defamatory statements, the Court reiterated that it is necessary to prove three elements to obtain judgment and an award of damages:

  1. The impugned words were defamatory, in the sense that they would tend to lower the plaintiff’s reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person;
  2. The words in fact referred to the plaintiff;
  3. The words were published, meaning that they were communicated to at least one person other than the plaintiff.

With respect to verbal defamatory statements, the Court noted that the same principles apply as long as the statements pertain to a person’s professional reputation. If the statements are not intended to denigrate a plaintiff in the exercise of his duties, profession or occupation or in the operation of his business or company, the plaintiff must prove special damages.

Lastly, regarding a permanent injunction, the Court held that courts can grant a permanent injunction requiring a party to cease spreading defamatory statements (1) when it is probable that the defendant will continue to publish defamatory statements, or (2) when there is a real possibility that the plaintiff will not receive any compensation from the defendant.

The Court concluded that the Defendant’s statements were defamatory and that the three above-noted elements had been met. In short, according to the Court, the Defendant’s accusations of injustice, racism and dishonesty tainted the Plaintiffs’ reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person. The Court also found that there was no justification for the Defendant’s defamatory statements. Ultimately, the Court awarded the Plaintiffs $4,000 in damages for defamation and $2,000 in punitive and exemplary damages, and issued a permanent interlocutory injunction ordering the Defendant to remove all defamatory comments published on the Internet and to stop publishing, distributing and making defamatory statements regarding the Plaintiffs.

In our view

This decision is positive for employers who face similar situations. The decision also reaffirms the fact that non-profit organization can be subjected to defamatory statements. For employers, the ruling reflects the usefulness of injunctions when former employees continue to perpetrate defamatory statements regarding them, notwithstanding repeated requests to stop making such statements.

For further information please contact Sébastien Huard at 613-940-2744 or Justin Dubois at 613-563-7660 ext. 283.