Workplace bullying focus of court case

Ryan Ross rross@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 2, 2016
Workplace bullying focus of court case

A family's claim that workplace bullying led to Eric Donovan's fatal heart attack will proceed through the courts after a successful appeal of the case's dismissal.

Donovan worked at Queen's County Residential Services, which is an organization that helps people with intellectual disabilities.

In 2013 he suffered a work-related back injury and about a month later he had a heart attack.

Donovan died fewer than two weeks later.

His widow and two children allege workplace bullying caused Donovan stress, anxiety and fear, which led to his fatal heart attack.

Those allegations include that hostile and demeaning statements were made about his work performance, he was forced to work extra hours and he was forced to do unsafe work.

Queens County Residential Services and Donovan's supervisor, Nadine Hendriken, are named in the lawsuit that claims damages for losses the family suffered after Donovan's death.

The P.E.I. Court of Appeal heard the case after a lower court dismissed the claim saying it didn't have jurisdiction over the matter.

In a unanimous decision, Justice John Mitchell disagreed with the lower court and overturned the dismissal along with an order for costs against the Donovan family.

Mitchell addressed the issue of costs with criticism directed at lawyers and what he said has become a disturbing trend in the profession that leaves the courts accessible only to people who can afford it.

"This is a concern not just for the profession but for society as well," he wrote.

Mitchell said lawyers should zero in on the issues on which a case will turn and not over prepare.

"One does not need to build a battleship to do the job of a dingy," he wrote.

Mitchell also targeted the provincial government, saying it was making the problem worse by taxing legal services, adding fees for court services and increasing old fees.

The tax on legal services is not a tax on lawyers, Mitchell said, and noted $11,731 was paid in HST by one side in this case.

"Access to justice should be the right of every citizen and not turned into a profit centre by the government."

Mitchell awarded more than $5,000 in costs.