Superior Court Considers Latitude Investigation Findings in Couture v. Kleen Flo Tumbler Industries Limited
A recent decision from the Superior Court of Quebec, Couture v. Kleen Flo Tumbler Industries Limited1 affirms the findings of an investigation conducted by Ms. Anaïs Lacroix, a founding partner at Latitude.
In this case, Mr. Guy Couture, who held a senior director position for 39 years and was regarded as the founder’s trusted associate, was terminated for having created a toxic work environment that negatively impacted his employees.
As outlined in the decision, more than a dozen employees came forward with allegations against Mr.Couture, portraying his management style as authoritarian. They detailed the damaging effects of his condescending and hostile attitude, leading to stress and insomnia. Interactions with him left them feeling uncomfortable and fearful of potential reprimands. Additionally, sales representatives claimed that he pursued absolute control through arbitrary means, severely restricting their actions and hindering their ability to deliver satisfactory customer service.
In an act of solidarity, the office and warehouse staff collectively decided to abstain from work to protest Mr.Couture’s behaviour.
As a neutral third-party investigator, Ms. Lacroix from Latitude investigated the serious allegations made against Mr. Couture. Through extensive interviews and a comprehensive analysis of the evidence collected, Ms. Lacroix ultimately determined that Mr. Couture’s conduct did constitute psychological harassment and led to the creation of a harmful and poisonous workplace environment.
After being informed of the investigation findings, the employer chose to terminate Mr. Couture’s employmentforcause, without prior notice or indemnity in lieu thereof.
At trial, Mr. Couture challenged the grounds for his dismissal and claimed $500,000 for severance and damages.
In the court’s decision, Judge Turcotte sided with the employer in this case, finding that Mr. Couture’s dismissal was justified in the circumstances. In doing so, Judge Turcotte concurred with Ms. Lacroix’s investigation findings, describing them as consistent with the evidence.
Based on corroborating witness testimony collected by Ms. Lacroix, which Judge Turcotte described as “flawless,”Judge Turcotte highlighted several instances of unacceptable conduct by Mr. Couture. Such behaviours included his authoritarian attitude, insulting remarks targeting women and individuals of different ethnic backgrounds, profanity usage to emphasize derogatory comments, condescending treatment of sales representatives, inappropriate remarks about a female employee’s appearance, and derogatory comments about the ethnic backgrounds of head office employees.
Acting like Role Models
This decision is especially helpful for the emphasis it places on the higher standard of conduct expected frommanagers. Judge Turcotte concurred with Ms. Lacroix’s statement that managers, as individuals in positions of authority, must actas role models for others and in a way that reflects their employer’s values, citing this passage of Ms. Lacroix’ investigation report, at paragraph 65:
A manager should act as a model, lead by example and reflect the values of the organization in all the interactions. Unfortunately, this is not the case. By his actions and his words, Mr. Couture had put the well being of the employees in jeopardy and has become a legal and reputational risk for the company.
Managerial Obligations and Duties
Judge Turcotte also found that, through his actions, Mr. Couture breached his duty of care and diligence owed to his employer, as well as his duty of loyalty. Judge Turcotte writes, at paragraph 86:
- Mr. Couture also lacked loyalty to his employer, a family business towards which the staff developed a strong sense of belonging. Mr. Couture’s attitude clashes with the philosophy of management, may it be in his relations with employees or with customers. The leaders were ashamed when they learned the truth. [OUR TRANSLATION]
As a manager, Mr. Couture had a responsibility to ensure that the workplace was free from all forms of psychological or sexual harassment. Rather than doing so, he himself engaged in conduct that created a toxic work environment.
In this case, the fact that Mr. Couture’s conduct was serious enough to make employees refuse to come into work if he remained employed was considered an aggravating factor by Judge Turcotte.
Delay in Reporting
According to the evidence presented, it was revealed that Mr. Couture’s inappropriate behaviour persisted over an extended period. Mr. Couture contended that the employees’ delay in reporting his conduct should be considered as a positive factor in his defence. Nevertheless, Judge Turcotte determined, based on the evidence presented, that employees reasonably feared potential reprisal, thus clarifying the reason behind the delay.
For all employers, this decision is a helpful reminder of the importance of ensuring that managers are well versed in harassment prevention matters and act as role models for employees when it comes to appropriate workplace conduct and communication. Judge Turcotte reminded employers that « [w]here the source of the harassment comes from a person in authority in the company, the employer has a duty to react promptly in order to curb the devastating effect that the actions are likely to cause in the workplace » [OUR TRANSLATION] (paragraph 91).
What options are available to an employer who is informed of potential issues with a manager’s conduct or management style? Employers should always be proactive when concerns are raised. Other than a traditional investigation or admissibility assessment, a workplace climate analysis or a neutral assessment may be good options in some cases. For managers interested in strengthening their soft skills in areas like leadership, communication, empathetic listening, emotional intelligence, and more, Latitude offers a variety of coaching services as well.
- Couture c. Kleen Flo Tumbler Industries Limited, 2023 QCCS2175