Home Featured Alberta court rejects streamlined trial in wrongful dismissal case filed by Big Rock Brewery’s former CEO

Alberta court rejects streamlined trial in wrongful dismissal case filed by Big Rock Brewery’s former CEO

by HR Law Canada

The Court of King’s Bench of Alberta has denied a request by the former president and CEO of Big Rock Brewery for a streamlined trial in his wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

W.A. claims his termination was unjust and is seeking nearly $262,000 in severance pay, as well as $200,000 in aggravated and punitive damages for alleged breach of good faith. The brewery asserts that the termination was for just cause.

The case background

W.A. launched legal action against Big Rock Brewery on Feb. 15, 2023, alleging wrongful dismissal. He contends that his termination was without just cause and without pay in lieu of reasonable notice. Additionally, he alleges that Big Rock acted in bad faith, warranting further damages.

Big Rock defended the termination, citing several grounds including disobedience to board directives, gross negligence, and misrepresentation of financial information.

The brewery indicated the need for at least five key witnesses to support their claims, pointing to the case’s complexity.

Streamlined trial request

In an effort to expedite the proceedings, W.A. applied for a streamlined trial. Introduced in January 2024, the streamlined trial rules aim to make the civil justice system more timely and affordable by focusing on core issues and reducing unnecessary steps.

The streamlined trial process is designed to be a middle ground between full trials and summary judgments, offering a potentially faster resolution while still allowing for thorough examination of evidence.

Court’s analysis and decision

The court outlined the criteria for granting a streamlined trial, emphasizing that it must be both necessary for a fair and just resolution and proportionate to the case’s importance and complexity.

“Streamlined trials represent a compromise between the benefits of a full trial and the expediency of an alternative, truncated process,” it said.

In evaluating W.A.’s application, the court focused on the necessity and proportionality of a streamlined trial. It pointed out the extensive financial documentation and multiple witness testimonies required to address the allegations against W.A. Given this context, the court found that the streamlined process might increase costs and inefficiencies rather than reduce them.

“Proceeding by way of a streamlined trial would require all those individuals, plus any other witnesses, to file and serve affidavits and then (M.A.) would be entitled to question each of the witnesses on their affidavits. This would result in multiple days of questioning and very likely a great deal of overlap in the questioning, as each witness is likely to cover some common ground,” the court stated.

Moreover, it noted that preparing for a streamlined trial, particularly in a case involving significant financial evidence, demands considerable judicial time. The court explained that the preparation for such a trial is more intensive than for a standard trial due to the volume of affidavit and transcript evidence.

The decision also touched on the concept of proportionality, a cornerstone of the new streamlined trial rules. Despite the relatively modest amount of the claim, the judge determined that the complexity and breadth of the evidence warranted a full trial.

“The allegations of cause raised by Big Rock will require an assessment of the credibility of all the witnesses so that the judge hearing the matter can fairly assess the evidence and come to a just decision,” he wrote. “While a Streamlined Trial Order could facilitate oral evidence from all the witnesses, the result would be, in essence, a full trial.”

Conclusion

The court concluded that a streamlined trial was neither necessary nor proportionate for resolving W.A.’s wrongful dismissal action. It emphasized that a full trial would be more efficient, cost-effective, and just given the case’s intricacies.

“This is not a case where the evidence can be readily distilled into affidavit form with limited oral evidence and cross examination at trial to permit the trial judge to resolve credibility issues in a streamlined process,” it said.

The application for a streamlined trial was dismissed.

For more information, see Arsenault v Big Rock Brewery Limited Partnership by its general partner Big Rock Brewery Operations Corp. and Big Rock Brewery Operations Corp, 2024 ABKB 387 (CanLII).

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