Highland Valley wins appeal over former employee who claimed he was entitled to severance package - InfoNews

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Highland Valley wins appeal over former employee who claimed he was entitled to severance package

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April 05, 2017 - 6:30 PM

KAMLOOPS - The little guy may have won the first time around, but after an appeal in B.C. Supreme Court, a judge has ruled a former longtime Highland Valley Copper employee isn't entitled to a retirement package.

Albert Aubrey was previously awarded damages for breach of an employment contract, but Teck Highland Valley Copper Partnership appealed the decision. In July, the original judge found a retirement package was an express oral term of Aubrey's employment contract.

Aubrey started out with the company as a union employee in the early 1980s before moving into a supervisor role in 1993. But after 30 years and a legal battle, Aubrey is walking away without a severance package he thought he was promised. 

The package was equivalent to 18 months' salary to Aubrey upon his retirement. In the appeal, Highland Valley argued the judge erred in judgement, saying there was no evidence of the oral term and that the term is not enforceable.

According to a written decision by Court of Appeal judge Anne MacKenzie, Aubrey was awarded more than $175,000 in the original civil trial which is equivalent to what the severance package would have been.

When Aubrey was moved to a supervisor position in the 1990s, he discussed the benefits of that role with a human resources representative with the company. According to the appeal decision, Aubrey understood he would receive the package upon retirement.

But when Aubrey retired in 2012, Highland Valley refused to provide him with the package. After the trial for the matter wrapped up, the judge ruled Aubrey was entitled to the package as it was an express term of the employment agreement. He also said the package was regularly received by Highland Valley employees.

The human resources representative for the company whom Aubrey spoke with in 1993, Gordon Matthews, originally testified he had no authority to promise retirement or severance packages to anyone and never did so with Aubrey. He says it's likely he discussed with Aubrey what the package was.

Aubrey said that although Matthews never explicitly used the word retirement, any reasonable person in his position would have left the meeting understanding that the promise of severance was made in the context of discussing retirement.

MacKenzie sided with Highland Valley, saying, at most, the evidence supports a promise of severance pay upon termination, not retirement. Highland Valley argued the trial judge's comments about severance in relation to retirement was the "nub" of the appeal.

"A careful reading of Mr. Aubrey’s and Mr. Matthews’ evidence does not support Mr. Aubrey’s position that a package payable on retirement was an express oral term of his employment contract," MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie allowed the appeal, which means Aubrey is not entitled to the more than $175,000 he was set to be awarded after the original trial, and claims of breach of contract against Highland Valley have been dismissed.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ashley Legassic or call 250-319-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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