A Maple Ridge woman is suing her employer for wrongful dismissal, after having been fired for not being vaccinated against COVID-19.
Andrea Marlene Horvath, filed a civil claim against Ducks Unlimited Canada, the wetlands conservation non-profit organization, in December at the Supreme Court of B.C. in Vancouver. She claims to have been working from home when she was fired.
Horvath, 49, had worked for 11 years as a chartered professional accountant, and her claim says she was integral to the organization. She was the company’s conservation controller for B.C., earning $106,000 per year plus benefits.
In October, Ducks Unlimited terminated her employment, saying it had just cause. She claims to have not received severance upon termination.
“The plaintiff states, and the fact is, that she had absolutely no history of discipline and, in fact, exclusively positive feedback regarding her performance,” said the claim.
Ducks Unlimited had introduced a vaccination policy on Sept. 24, requiring all employees be fully vaccinated, effective immediately, with threat of termination for failing to comply, said the claim. That was about three weeks before she was fired.
On Oct. 1, she raised her concerns regarding the policy and on Oct. 14 she was terminated for failing to comply.
Ducks Unlimited made no accommodations, and did not consider alternative solutions, her claim says, adding that there was no agreement that allowed the employer to mandate vaccination as a condition of employment.
The claim states her employment did not require in-person contact with staff or customers. She had worked from home since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Even before that, she had been working from home about 80 per cent of the time since the start of 2015.
Ducks Unlimited never had COVID-19 outbreaks, showing safety regulations and procedures were effective in ensuring a safe environment, her claim states.
She is suing for 13 months’ pay, damages for out-of-pocket expenses, aggravated and punitive damages, as well as legal costs.
The legal basis for her claim is “the unilateral decision to now require vaccines could not have been a bonafide occupational requirement as the defendant (Ducks Unlimited) has repeatedly demonstrated that it can safely operate without such a requirement. The point is further underscored by the fact that the B.C. government has specifically chosen not to impose a vaccine mandate on the defendant or the general population.”
In response, Ducks Unlimited agreed Horvath spent the majority of her time working remotely, but was required to attend staff and board meetings in person.
The company said its vaccination policy allowed employees to be unvaccinated if they had been granted a human rights exemption.
“The communication emphasized that under occupational health and safety laws, Canadian workplaces are required to take all reasonable precautions to protect employees from ‘workplace hazards,’ which includes the transmission of COVID-19,” said the claim response.
The company said Horvath sought an exemption from the vaccination requirement on the basis she worked remotely, rather than a human rights exemption.
“Ms. Horvath confirmed that she was unvaccinated due to personal preference. The company advised her that given there would still be a requirement for her to attend in-person meetings and that she was expected to have some contact with company stakeholders, she would be required to comply with the vaccination policy,” said the company response.
It further says she spoke with Mark Gloutney, the company’s director of regional operations for Eastern Canada, about the vaccination policy on Oct. 6.
“Ms. Horvath expressed that she would not comply with the vaccination policy, and felt that the company’s vaccination requirement was a violation of her human rights. Ms. Horvath expressed that she wanted to resolve the matter quickly. Dr. Gloutney agreed to get back to her with next steps.
“In light of the fact that Ms. Horvath did not have a human rights exemption that required accommodation, and that she clearly indicated she was unwilling to comply with the vaccination policy, the company decided to terminate her employment. On or about Oct. 14, 2021, Dr. Gloutney met with Ms. Horvath to communicate that her employment was being terminated for cause effective immediately.”
The company said the vaccination policy was reasonable and enforceable in the circumstances presented by the pandemic at the time the policy was introduced. The company had a duty to employees, contractors and stakeholders to protect their health.
Ducks Unlimited said that as a member of management, in a leadership position, Horvath had a duty to uphold company policies, and her personal opposition was “incompatible with continued employment.”
“The vaccination policy, and in particular the requirement to become fully vaccinated as a condition of continued employment, was clearly communicated to Ms. Horvath. She was provided with an opportunity to comply, and was advised that her failure to comply would result in the termination of her employment for cause,” said the company response. “In refusing to abide by the vaccination policy, Ms. Horvath repudiated the employment relationship. As a result, the company had just cause to terminate her employment.”
The company’s response was filed on Jan. 12.
A lawyer for Ducks Unlimited declined to comment on this story.
The next step is an exchange of documentation, and then scheduling the discovery process, revealing what evidence and witnesses will be used at trial.
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