Deaf ex-employee’s court case puts bosses on notice for behaving badly

Strudwick became deaf in 2010, which is when the trouble with her employer started.
Strudwick became deaf in 2010, which is when the trouble with her employer started. iStock.

Many people have at least one bad work experience during their career. However, the recent Ontario court case of Strudwick v. Applied Consumer & Clinical Evaluations Inc., takes the cake.

Vicky Strudwick started to work for Applied in 1995 as a data entry clerk and sometime recruiting instructor. A performance evaluation found her to be an exemplary employee.

Strudwick became deaf in 2010, which is when the trouble with her employer started. Applied began to treat her like a leper: isolating, belittling, and humiliating her and denying her accommodation requests.

The law in Ontario is that an employer has to reasonably accommodate an employee with disabilities as per the Ontario Human Rights Code. That means that short of the accommodation being very difficult to provide or very costly, the employer has to do it.

The kind of accommodations Strudwick asked for would neither present much difficulty nor a financial burden to Applied. Her requests were: getting important verbal instructions in writing, being accommodated as per the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association booklet (some of which would cost nothing), reversing the direction of her desk and more.

The court made sure to emphasize that even her request for a hearing dog was denied, even though the non-disabled manager felt free to bring his own dogs to the office.

All of this culminated into her termination, after an “incident” arising from her participation in a voluntary employee activity in which she was responsible for organizing topics, which she didn’t do on that occasion.

The next day her manager yelled at her, called her a “goddamned fool” and fired her for insubordination because of the “goddamned stunt”, even though this had only been a voluntary activity and not related to her actual duties as an employee.

After almost 16 years of loyal service Applied offered Strudwick only three months’ pay in lieu of notice if she signed a waiver, which she refused. After her refusal she was told to get out.

So outraged was the court at the treatment Strudwick received from Applied and its manager, the court increased her notice in lieu of pay period from 20 months to 24 months, which resulted in her receiving nearly $50,000.

The court’s outrage didn’t end there though. Strudwick would have gotten a total award of $94,940.97 for pay in lieu of notice, fringe benefits, violation of the human rights code, and aggravated damages but the court didn’t think that was enough.

Applied was also slapped with another $15,000 in punitive damages, which are only awarded in rare circumstances if the court believes that the offender has acted terribly and indecently.

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