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Gender (Female) A Factor In Big Alberta Severance Award
Cordeau-Chatelain v Total E&P Canada Ltd, 2021 ABQB 794 (October 5, 2021) is an Alberta wrongful dismissal decision related to a without cause termination of a female Communications Manager. The Honourable Madam Justice J.C. Price awarded a stunning 18 months’ in reasonable notice severance for this 8 year and 7 month middle-management employee.
This case provides insight into the relevant notice period for employees within the energy sector who find themselves looking for comparable alternative employment within an economic downturn. This Alberta case applies the relatively recent Supreme Court of Canada decision Matthews v. Ocean Nutrition Ltd. 2020 SCC 26, which is authority for the fact that employers are obligated to provide payment of Long-Term Incentive Plan and Short-Term Incentive Plan payments that would otherwise have been paid to the employee during the reasonable notice period.
At the time of termination, the Plaintiff held had been employed with the energy company for 8 years and 7 months and was 53 years old. The Plaintiff was terminated on a without cause basis from her mid-management level position as “Head of Governance and Métier Support”, a communications management position which required proficiency in English and French, that was responsible for communications across borders, working with global leadership, and oversight of 4 other employees.
The Plaintiff had difficulties searching for alternative employment given the fact that she was residing in Paris at the time of termination and was disconnected from her network of professional contacts in Alberta. Despite significant efforts to find comparable alternative employment, the Plaintiff was only able to do so three years after the termination, subsequent to retraining as an executive coach and completing a graduate certificate in leadership and executive coaching.
Analysis / Conclusion
Applying the Bardal factors, the court held that the Plaintiff was entitled to a reasonable notice period of 18 months. The factors considered by Justice Price included the employee’s age, length of service, the poor economic conditions that existed in 2017, the geographical dislocation between the Plaintiff and her professional network contacts, the specialization of her job, and the additional difficulty posed by gender in the search for alternative employment. Justice J.C. Price notes, at paragraph 63:
I take judicial notice of the compounding negative effects that gender and age can have on a woman in the professional job market, especially at the management level at which Ms. Cordeau-Chatelain operated, the specialized and unique type of the work that she did, the area of work she was in (energy sector), and the economic downturn and poor market and job opportunities available to her.
In making an assessment for damages, the Court applied the reasoning in Matthews to award both short-term incentive and long-term incentive bonuses to the Plaintiff in the amounts of $49,825.38 and $79,063.27 respectively. Relying on Baker v United Grain Growers Ltd.,  11 AR 353 (SC) and Christiansen and Somir v Canac Kitchens,  OJ No 5052 (SC), the Court awarded education and tuition costs incurred by the Plaintiff to retrain, noting that both the costs incurred, as well as the Plaintiff’s mitigation efforts (which included the decision to retrain after a long period of unsuccessful job searching), were reasonable.
This case has very important implications for employees whose job search efforts have been impacted by recent economic circumstances as the case is authority for the fact that a poor economy can have a direct impact on an employee’s search for alternative employment.
Bow River Law
A published copy of the Cordeau-Chatelain case is available at the following link: https://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abqb/doc/2021/2021abqb794/2021abqb794.html?resultIndex=1