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Firing of Deaf Employee Costs Firm $240K

Deaf News: Deaf ex-employee’s court case puts bosses on notice for behaving badly in Mississauga, Canada.

TORONTO, ON -- The Canadian Press: A long-time employee tormented by her employer and unceremoniously dumped after she went Deaf had her damages award more than doubled to $246,000 by Ontario’s top court on Thursday.

In its decision, the Appeal Court ruled the egregious nature of the company’s “heartless” misconduct warranted significantly higher damages for Vicky Strudwick.

“In the lead-up to Ms. Strudwick’s termination, she was belittled, isolated, humiliated and made to suffer the effects of her disability to the greatest extent possible,” the Appeal Court said.

“This conduct was deliberate, malicious and designed to force Ms. Strudwick to quit a job she had held for almost 16 years.”

Court documents show that Strudwick worked for Applied Consumer and Clinical Evaluations, a family-run business based in Mississauga, Ont., that recruits people to participate in focus groups. She began by doing data entry, but later instructed recruiting staff, earning $12.85 an hour.

In October 2010, she went completely Deaf - possibly because of a virus.

Court records show that Andrew Hoffman, the general manager, and a supervisor, Liz Camilleri, then began a concerted campaign of abuse against Strudwick aimed at forcing her to quit.

They not only denied her any accommodation for her disability, but actually took steps to make her life even more difficult, the court said.

In May 2011, Hoffman fired her, allegedly for pulling a “stunt” at a company event, prompting Strudwick, then 56, to sue for wrongful dismissal and abuse.

Applied Consumer never delivered a statement of defence and was noted in default.

In August last year, Superior Court Justice Grant Dow awarded her a total of $113,782 and $40,000 in legal costs. Strudwick appealed the damages award as too low, while Applied Consumer - which has about 80 employees - argued the legal costs award was too high.

The Appeal Court affirmed the costs award, but found Strudwick deserved much more by way of damages given the “cruel” treatment to which her bosses had subjected her.

Examples included giving her instructions while preventing her from lip reading, then calling her stupid. They refused to let her turn her desk around so that she could see people as they approached.

“In the immediate lead-up to her dismissal, Ms. Strudwick was confronted in front of an estimated 13 other employees, yelled at and called a ‘goddamned fool’,” the Appeal Court stated.

Hoffman, who would later himself be fired, gave her a termination letter and a cheque for three months’ pay. When she refused to sign a release, he took the cheque back and had her marched out of the building in front of her co-workers.

Applied Consumer, which claims to foster an environment of “empowerment, engagement, fairness and responsibility,” then claimed she had been fired for insubordination and wilful misconduct - a tactic that delayed her access to employment insurance.

On appeal, Strudwick argued for more than $1 million, but the court said its hands were tied by her initial statement of claim, which sought $240,000 plus an amount for loss of benefits.

The Appeal Court said she deserved her full claim for damages in light of the “malicious and heartless” treatment meted out to her. It also awarded another $20,000 in costs for the appeal.

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