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Sask. firm ordered to pay $100K after firing man for workplace romance

A Saskatchewan man who was fired over a romantic relationship with his co-worker’s daughter is due over $100,000 in damages following a recent court ruling.

Jim Ketch was dismissed with cause from his job with a Meadow Lake wood pulp company in 2016. In a letter of termination, the company said he failed to disclose his relationship with Mikayla Vidal, which they say began when the 21-year-old woman worked for the company as a summer student.

Vidal worked on the same crew as Ketch and her father, Roy Vidal.

In its letter, the company alleged Ketch and Mikayla went bow hunting for gophers during working hours on company property, amounting to time theft, that he “inappropriately interfered” with Vidal’s 2016 job application, and that his attendance and job performance “deteriorated significantly” in the year leading up to his termination.

Ketch started working for Meadow Lake Mechanical Pulp Ltd. in 1992, and by 2010 he was promoted to a role as supervisor.

According to the Nov. 7 decision from Justice R.S. Smith, Ketch came to be friends with Mikayla’s father Roy, and often socialized with his family.

“Mikayla got hired in the summer of 2014 and worked on the plaintiff’s shift along with her father, Roy. There were no problems,” Smith wrote.

In 2015, Mikayla was again hired as a summer student.

“Again, she was working on the plaintiff’s shift with her father. In 2015, it became clear there was some type of blossoming relationship between Mikayla and the plaintiff. It was arguably unexpected as in 2015 the plaintiff was 45 years old and Mikayla, 20.”

It was during this summer the company alleges the two would disappear to bow hunt for gophers in a nearby warehouse.

After returning to school in the fall, the two continued to meet up.

“By December 2015, it became clear to the plaintiff and Mikayla that their relationship was blossoming into something much more,” Smith wrote.

When he disclosed the relationship to Roy, Ketch testified he was stunned.

“Roy quickly evolved from his initial silence to a campaign of shock and awe slander against the plaintiff.”

He warned his daughter against “wasting her life” with Ketch, according to emails shared with the court, and at work Roy began telling co-workers that Ketch “routinely employed prostitutes and had a sexually transmitted disease.”

Unmoved by her father’s wishes, in April 2016 Vidal moved into Ketch’s Meadow Lake home.

“On April 27, Roy, his wife and his two sons went to the plaintiff’s house, where Mikayla was now living, and walked in uninvited and started fighting the plaintiff. The incident has been called, in subsequent documents, an altercation ... but it was in fact the Vidals administering a beating to the plaintiff.”

When the family members were interviewed by police, they told officers Ketch had threatened to shoot them, which Ketch categorically denies. As a result, police seized all of Ketch’s guns.

Shortly after the assault, Ketch was called in for a meeting with human resources. It didn’t go as he expected, says Smith.

“I expect that the plaintiff assumed the interview would be somewhat commiserative because of the beating he received at the hands of the Vidal clan. What, in fact, took place bordered on cross-examination with respect to his activities from the previous summer, 2015, and specifically questions about the excessive time he spent with Mikayla,” said Smith.

“Of course, in 2015, the plaintiff and Mikayla were not actually dating. Although I concede the relationship was more than just two employees.”

The HR employee testified that Ketch became agitated later in the meeting, causing her to cut it short.

Not long after, Ketch was terminated. Roy received a five-day suspension following the assault, which he served during already-scheduled time off.

According to Smith, the company failed to make a strong case that it had cause to fire Ketch. In fact, the move violated the company’s progressive discipline policy, which outlines five stages from talking to dismissal.

“For the purposes of argument, if we accept that the plaintiff was spending too much time with Mikayla during lunch breaks and work breaks, that would hardly meet the misconduct threshold for just cause immediate dismissal.”

Ketch was available during work hours at all times because he carried a radio with him, Smith says.

In its letter, the company also alleged that Ketch’s attendance and job performance deteriorated over his last year of employment, but Smith found there was no evidence suggesting he took any time off beyond scheduled holidays and medical leave.

“Further, if there were deficits in relation to job performance, the court would have expected to hear from the on-site manager of the plant and the plaintiff’s immediate superior,” Smith wrote.

“Again, I do not excuse the plaintiff for stretching lunch breaks and break time in order to bow shoot with Mikayla, but I can understand if his response was somewhat agitated at this meeting. For him, it would have been as if he had somehow taken the wrong off-ramp into a Franz Kafka short story.”

In 2018 the once-star-crossed couple married, Smith says. They have four children between one and six-years-old.

The judge found that although the company didn’t act in bad faith, it came to some questionable conclusions.

Smith awarded Ketch compensation in lieu of 24 months notice, less any income he earned from EI and at his new job during that period — just over $117,000. Top Stories

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