Written by Daniel Standing LL.B., Editor, First Reference Inc.
2023 ONSC 2740 (CanLII) is a defamation case of epic proportions, both for the scope and turpitude of the statements made and in the number of victims. It’s also a strange case, in that the defendant only knew one of the 53 plaintiffs, and the plaintiffs, based all over North America, were mostly strangers to each other.
The one common thread tying them all to the defendant is that, apart from one lawyer, they were all executives or recruiters at big companies that failed to provide the defendant a job offer after he applied for positions with them.
The defamation aimed at them wasn’t of the garden variety, if there is such a thing. It ran the gamut of alleged sex trafficking, rape, pedophilia, xenophobia, workplace harassment, and many other types of criminal and disgusting behaviour, together with photos of the plaintiffs. Hiding behind a shield of anonymity, the defendant posted the content on Internet revenge sites over the course of several years, with the result that his salacious, outrageous, malevolent comments (the court’s words) could likely never be fully contained or removed. The court said they were potentially career-ending but, without a doubt, ruinous to the plaintiffs’ reputations. In the court’s estimation, all suffered reputational harm and serious emotional distress, while some suffered financially on top of that.
Having already separately determined liability, the court’s task was then to quantify damages, no small task given the case’s amplitude. The result of its review of each plaintiff’s circumstances was a 53-line table setting out general, aggravated (where warranted), and punitive damages owed to each plaintiff, totalling more than $4 million.
To a reasonable extent, employers have a duty to protect their employees from workplace harms. But the real lesson is for spurned perspective (or maybe past) employees: malicious, spiteful, and vindictive behaviour could do real harm to the individuals who are targeted, the harm that is both compensable, and punishable, even if no criminal charges are involved, and even if the defendant employee has no hope of ever paying off their debt. This court sent a strong message denouncing and deterring such conduct in a forum where words are easily shared, but can’t be taken back.