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Federal Court rejects employer’s bid to strike wrongful dismissal claim from marine engineer over ‘choice of forum’ clause

by HR Law Canada

The Federal Court of Canada has dismissed a motion by Lower Lakes Towing to strike out a former employee’s wrongful dismissal claim, ruling that a “choice of forum” clause in his employment contract was ambiguous and that it holds jurisdiction in the case.

This decision allows the lawsuit, launched on Oct. 3, 2022, seeking $250,000 in damages for wrongful dismissal, among other reliefs, to proceed.

Lower Lakes Towing had filed a motion seeking to stay or dismiss the action. They argued that the Federal Court lacked jurisdiction over the matter, citing that the action was statute-barred and highlighting the choice of forum that assigned jurisdiction to the Courts of Ontario.

The worker, a marine engineer and former Chief Engineer of the ship “Tecumseh,” was dismissed by the company on April 3, 2020. In response to the Defendant’s motion, he contended that the Federal Court was indeed the appropriate jurisdiction for his claim, under the Federal Courts Act. He also argued that the action was timely under the three-year limit set by the Marine Liability Act and challenged the enforceability of the choice of forum clause in his contract.

The Court, in its ruling, emphasized the jurisdiction of the Federal Court in maritime employment matters, as stated in the Federal Courts Act and supported by various precedents. It found that the worker’s claims fell under the jurisdiction of the Federal Court and were within the appropriate time limits.

The Federal Courts Act stats that it has jurisdiction with respect to all of the following: “Any claim by a master, officer or member of the crew of a ship for wages, money, property or other remuneration or benefits arising out of his or her employment.”

Furthermore, the Court deemed the choice of forum clause in the employment contract as ambiguous and non-exclusive, thus not restricting the jurisdiction to Ontario Courts alone.

The clause read: “Officer agrees that all disputes and hearings and procedures related to this Agreement or Employee’s employment will, subject only to the requirements of any administrative tribunal, be heard or resolved in Ontario including before the Courts of Ontario.”

“The clause provides that disputes and hearings will take place ‘in’ Ontario, ‘including before the Courts of Ontario,'” the Federal Court said. “In my opinion, the word ‘including‘ indicates that jurisdiction is not limited to the Courts of Ontario. A sitting of the Federal Court in Toronto satisfies the requirement that a hearing take place ‘in‘ Ontario.”

The Court’s rejection of Lower Lakes Towing Ltd.’s motion allows the worker to continue his pursuit of justice, with costs awarded to him.

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