Notice Period Reduced by 40% Due to Failure to Mitigate

In Sinnathamby v The Chesterfield Shop Limited ( 2016 ONSC 6966) Justice Charney assessed reasonable notice for a 45 year old Senior Customer Service Agent with 14 years service at 10 months.

However, insofar as she did nothing to look for a job for  the first 15 months following her dismissal, he reduced the damages to 6 months notice.

The Judge rejected the Plaintiff’s excuse for not looking for 15 months with these words:

119. The plaintiff acknowledges that she did not begin to look for alternative employment until January 2012, fifteen months after her dismissal. She claims that her medical condition prevented her from looking for work before that period. As already indicated, the plaintiff has filed no admissible medical evidence to support her claim that she could not work prior to January 2012.

122. In the absence of any admissible medical evidence to support this delay I conclude that it is appropriate to reduce the notice period for which the plaintiff is entitled to damages to six months.

Upon first reading these paragraphs, one might think that the Plaintiff submitted no medical evidence, however the Judge spent considerable time reviewing her medical evidence and found it to be wanting at best. This is what he found:

Medical Evidence
74. The plaintiff alleges that she was “diagnosed by Dr. Chen as suffering from depression, hypertension and anxiety”. She also claims that as a result of her wrongful dismissal she has “suffered further depression, mental distress and emotional anguish”. She alleges that her illness “stemmed from work related stress and prevented her from seeking and obtaining alternative employment”.
75. These allegations are unsupported by any evidence whatsoever. Dr. Chen did not file an affidavit on this motion. Even the medical documents that the plaintiff did file belie this claim. None of the doctor’s notes filed by the plaintiff include any such diagnosis. The hospital records relating to her emergency visit to Toronto Western Hospital on September 17, 2010 filed by the plaintiff state that the plaintiff’s “presenting complaint” was “vertigo” and the clinical notes state that she “came to ER because it takes 2 weeks to see family MD”. The notes indicate that she should take gravol as needed for nausea. The triage assessment states that her chief complaint was dizziness and that she “reported intermittent dizziness x 2 weeks”. There is no reference to depression, hypertension, anxiety, mental distress or emotional anguish, let alone any evidence linking such diagnosis to her dismissal from Chesterfield.
76. The medical report from October 27, 2010 states that she is a 44 year old female who presents with dizziness and imbalance. It states:
Mrs. Sinnathamby states that approximately two months ago she developed upper respiratory tract infection for which she was started on antibiotics. That eventually resolved but subsequent to that she developed episodes of vertigo. She describes them as true vertigo, and positional in nature, worse when in a lying down position. She has no associated fluctuating hearing loss, no aural fullness and no tinnitus. She otherwise has no focal neurological features. In particular she has no symptoms consistent with vertebrobasilar insufficiency. Since having started the BETAHISTINE she does feel that her symptoms are improving.
77. None of these records contains any reference to depression, hypertension, anxiety, mental distress or emotional anguish. All of her medical records up to and including July 2011 relate to dizziness and vertigo.
78. There are some barely legible clinical notes commencing September 2011 that state that the plaintiff is “depressed”, but in the absence of an expert affidavit to explain the relevance or significance of these cryptic references they do not meet the “best foot forward” obligation imposed on a party moving for summary judgment.
79. The plaintiff places particular reliance on a clinical note dated January 18, 2012 that, again, is barely legible. The parts that can be read state:
Sleeping better . . . overall better. Was terminated at work. Depressed at home. Will look for job.
80. In the absence of an expert affidavit explaining the relevance and significance of these comments they do not support her claim for mental distress or her claim that she was unable to return to work prior to January of 2012. Even on its face the clinical note does not indicate that Dr. Chen advised her that she could not return to work prior to January 18, 2012; it appears that she made the decision to look for a job herself. The note appears to reflect what the patient has reported to the doctor and not what the doctor has diagnosed.
81 .Indeed, the plaintiff was aware that she required an affidavit from her doctor to support the allegations made in this lawsuit. Dr. Chen’s final clinical note dated January 5, 2016 states “Upset/depressed re: wrongful dismissal, wants affidavit re: medical condition at the time — off work ~ 1year since Sep. 2010. Now has moved on — different job. Still has unresolved ill feelings”.
82. No such affidavit was provided, but Dr. Chen did provide the plaintiff with an undated note stating: “This is to certify that Suchitha may return to work as of January 18, 2012”.
83. The note, by itself, is not particularly helpful. It does not indicate whether or why she was not able to return to work earlier. It does not provide a date range of when the plaintiff was unable to work or why. It appears to be carefully drafted to say as little as possible. Since it is not part of an expert affidavit that can be cross-examined it cannot be used to support the plaintiff’s claim on a motion for summary judgment.
84. There is some dispute as to when this undated note from Dr. Chen was written. All of Dr. Chen’s other notes were dated. The undated note was not included in the plaintiff’s original affidavit dated April 4, 2016. On cross-examination she gave conflicting evidence, initially stating that she could not recall when she received the note or how it came into her possession. I agree with counsel for the defendant that the note was likely written by Dr. Chen around the same time as the plaintiff’s reply affidavit (September 13, 2016) because Dr. Chen was unable or unwilling to provide an affidavit. Pursuant to Rule 20.02(1) I have drawn an adverse inference from the plaintiff’s failure to provide an affidavit from Dr. Chen or any other medical expert.
85. I have dealt with the plaintiff’s medical allegations in some detail because they are allegations that are subject to objective verification. Other allegations (such as the dispute regarding the telephone calls between the plaintiff and Mr. Bochynek) are more difficult to resolve on an objective basis. It is clear from the medical records provided by the plaintiff that she complained of dizziness and was diagnosed with vertigo in September/October 2010. Yet her affidavit makes no mention of vertigo or dizziness, and claims instead that she was diagnosed with depression, hypertension, anxiety, mental distress and emotional anguish.
86. Based on this objective inconsistency between her affidavit and her medical records I find that the plaintiff is not a credible or reliable witness. There are other parts of her affidavit evidence that are also unreliable (I will address these later), and at the end of the day I am inclined to believe Mr. Bochynek’s versions of events rather then the plaintiff’s.

It seems that the  Judge was not particularly pleased with the Plaintiff putting forth a less than believable medical excuse for not looking for a job. His award of 6 months ( 26 weeks ) is only 4 weeks more than her ESA minimums of 22 weeks.