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Alberta jury awards almost $1 million in damages to employee dismissed for sexual harassment

The case of Elgert v. Home Hardware Stores Limited, 2010 ABQB 73 (CanLII), concerned a senior employee in a management position was dismissed for just cause based on alleged sexually harassment and insubordination. At the time, he had worked for Home Hardware for almost 17 years and was over the age of 50.

The alleged incidents occurred in late 2001/early2002 at the Home Hardware distribution centre in Wetaskiwin, an hour's drive from Edmonton.

The first complainant alleged that the Plaintiff, Mr. Elgert, pushed her into a dark storage room, pushed her up against a table, held her hands down and wiggled his body between her legs.

The second compliant alleged that a few months later while she was cleaning a first aid room in the warehouse, the Plaintiff entered the room, turned off the light and shut the door. He then bumped her backwards until she fell onto a cot. He laid on top of her, and lingered there.

One of the complainants was the daughter of the head of the distribution centre.

The incident did not come to light for some fourth months until a third party, who was aware of the situation, made a complaint. Upon receiving the complaint, Home Hardware investigated the matter, determined the incidents had occurred and terminated the Plaintiff for just cause in May 2002.

The Plaintiff sued the two complainants for defamation and Home Hardware for wrongful dismissal (his defamation suit against Home Hardware was not allowed). It was his position that, among other issues, Home Hardware had conducted a flawed investigation.

The jury handed down its decision on January 28, 2010, finding that the Plaintiff did not commit the act of sexual harassment and was entitled to:

  • $60,000 in damages based on his claim against the complainants for defamation
  • a 24 month notice period (which equated to approximately $89,000)
  • $200,000 in aggravated damages
  • $300,000 in punitive damages
  • pre-judgment interest starting from May 2002 (which was calculated at almost $80,000)
  • costs and disbursements (which were agreed to be $198,000)

A Notice of Appeal was filed by Home Hardware on February 24, 2010.

This is a remarkable case not only because the total judgment was in the $1 million range, but also because the judge has already issued whopping 13 written decisions, mainly in relation to various pre-trial applications brought by the parties.