Lawsuit alleging ‘poisoned and toxic work environment’ at 3M can proceed: Ontario court

3M Canada's facility in London, Ont. Photo: Google Streetview

3M Canada has lost its bid to have a wrongful dismissal case dismissed by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

The plaintiff, JS, who worked for 3M from September 1999 until his resignation on Jan. 2, 2022, initially left work in August 2020 for medical leave due to a heart attack, fall, and head trauma.

Although he was approved for short-term disability (STD) coverage, it was later denied. The plaintiff returned to work in February 2021 on a gradual basis and was approved for long-term disability (LTD) benefits.

The allegations

According to the plaintiff’s statement of claim, he was subjected to a “poisoned and toxic work environment,” allegedly fostered by 3M’s failure to accommodate his medical disability.

The lawsuit includes multiple allegations against 3M, claiming a constructive dismissal, discriminatory treatment, and a failure to accommodate his needs upon his return to work following his medical leave of absence.

The plaintiff seeks various forms of damages, including:

  • $282,000 for wrongful dismissal;
  • $82,500 for lost wages;
  • $75,000 for lost bonus in 2021;
  • $200,000 for lost future bonuses;
  • $56,400 for lost benefits;
  • $50,000 for breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code; and
  • and $200,000 in punitive, aggravated and/or moral damages.

The worker’s statement of claim noted that he “was forced to resign his employment on January 2, 2022, as he could no longer withstand months of the Defendant disregarding and/or discounting his needs and accommodations required upon his return to work following a medical leave of absence.  In brief, (JS) experienced a poisoned workplace that was untenable for him to remain employed in.  To this end, (JS) states that the Defendant’s inactions, conduct and behaviour caused his mental and physical ailments to worsen.”

The court’s reasoning

The motion to dismiss the lawsuit by 3M was framed under Rule 21.01 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, which allows a party to move to strike a pleading if it discloses no reasonable cause of action or defense.

The court stated that, read generously, the plaintiff’s claim “clearly lays out a claim for constructive dismissal,” adding that it includes “a series of acts that, taken together, show that the employer no longer intends to be bound by the contract.”

“Even if those series of acts only include the failure to accommodate, in my opinion, the independent cause of action remains constructive dismissal,” it said.

The court also clarified that while the lawsuit includes a breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code, “it is a claim for a breach of the employment contract between the parties, express or implied.”

The judge rejected 3M’s argument that the claim discloses no reasonable cause of action and ruled that whether the claim will be ultimately successful “is left for another day.”

As a result, the motion to strike the claim in its entirety was dismissed, and the plaintiff was awarded costs of $7,500 in line with the parties’ agreement on costs.

For more information, see Stomp v. 3M Canada, 2023 ONSC 5180 (CanLII)

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