Fired Articling Student Gets $50,000 for Being Bullied by her Boss

In Acuman Law Corp v Ojanen ( 2019 BCSC 1352) the plaintiff was 4 months into her 12 month of articles when she was fired because her boss thought that she and her boyfriend ( another articling student at a different firm ) were trying to compete with his lucrative DUI practice .

First the judge found that there was no just cause an awarded her the balance of her term, which only came to $18,934.

He then went on to award her $50,000 of aggravated damages because of the severe emotional effect the termination had on her and her career.

This is a partial list of what the employer boss did that upset the judge:

  1. He did not give the articling student any chance to explain her side of the story before he fired her .
  2. He sued her first claiming theft, and trespass. He then decided to serve her with the Claim in front of her classmates while she was attending the bar admission course put on by the Law Society.
  3. He falsely accused her of deceit and dishonesty.
  4. Given these allegations, she was unable to complete her articles and thus was rendered her unemployable in the legal profession.
  5. The employer persisted in these false allegations for 3 years including at trial .

This is the part of the judgement that I love :

[129]     The usual power imbalance between employer and employee was accentuated in this case.  Ms. Ojanen was a young woman without local contacts in the legal profession.  Mr. Doroshenko was the head of an established law firm.  Ms. Ojanen was terribly vulnerable.  Mr. Doroshenko was possessed of reputational capital and financial resources.  He was not content simply to fire her but took full advantage of his favoured position to launch a campaign against Ms. Ojanen through this lawsuit.

[130]     In short, Mr. Doroshenko’s response on discovering the Blog was disproportionate and bullying.  I find that he was determined to protect Acumen’s competitive position by making an example of Ms. Ojanen.

These are the judge’s findings on the effect of these actions on the students’ life:

132]     Ms. Ojanen testified that her dismissal and this lawsuit have visited profound emotional consequences upon her.  She was shocked and humiliated when she was served in front of her class.  After that, everything changed at PLTC and she felt embarrassed just being there.  She was distracted by the lawsuit and unable to focus on her studies.  As I have noted, she did not successfully complete PLTC.

[133]     Ms. Ojanen blames the dismissal and the lawsuit for the break-up of her marriage to Mr. Dominato.  She feels herself an outcast from the legal profession and unqualified for other employment.  In applying for work, she has had to disclose the allegations of theft and trespass.  As she put it, it’s a lot for an employer to take on.  Since her termination, she has mostly been unemployed.  She could not afford her rent and lived out of a car for three months. The car belonged to Mr. Dominato and he repossessed it and moved back to Ontario.  Ms. Ojanen lived on the street for a week or so after that before she was able to persuade her parents to take her in; she now lives in an apartment they own.  Pending the resolution of this lawsuit, her life has been on hold.

[134]     Ms. Ojanen testified that her experience with Acumen has changed who she is.  She suffers from anxiety, depression, inability to focus, irritability and loss of appetite.  These were not issues for her before her termination.

[136]     I accept Ms. Ojanen’s evidence concerning the effects of the dismissal and this lawsuit on her.  In the circumstances in which Ms. Ojanen found herself, it was natural for her to suffer serious and prolonged emotional distress in consequence of the way she was treated by Mr. Doroshenko and Acumen.  I find that she suffered serious and prolonged emotional distress that is well outside the norm for dismissed employees.

One last amazing fact.

Ms Ojanen, the fired student, represented herself at the trial.

Not bad for a beginner.