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Executive Entitled to Bonus Despite Breach of Fiduciary Duty

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The Ontario Court of Appeal has recently restored an arbitrator’s decision granting a terminated executive his bonus despite his misappropriation of the employer’s money and resources during the period in which the bonus was earned.

Leonard Rossetto was the Vice President of a division of Mady Development Corp. (“Mady”).  Between September and November 2007, Rossetto diverted Mady’s labour and materials and used Mady’s funds to renovate his house.  Mady discovered the wrongdoing and terminated his employment in December 2008.  Mady subsequently sued Rossetto for damages for conversion, breach of employment contract, unjust enrichment, and breach of fiduciary duty.  Rossetto counterclaimed in respect of bonuses for 2007 and 2008 equal to 30% of Mady’s profits after overhead. 

The parties submitted the dispute to arbitration where Mady was awarded $546,452 for breach of fiduciary duty and for delays to one of its projects resulting from Rossetto’s breach.  The arbitrator also awarded Rossetto $364,661.33 in satisfaction of unpaid bonuses for 2007 and 2008.  The arbitrator held that the bonuses were an integral part of Rossetto’s compensation and that a dishonest employee is still entitled to be paid for the work that he has done.

Mady appealed the arbitrator’s award of the bonus to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.  Justice Allen overturned the bonus award on the basis that a fiduciary is not entitled to compensation during the period of wrongdoing.

Rossetto appealed the decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which reinstated the arbitrator’s award of the bonus.  Justice Hoy held that errant fiduciaries do not forfeit their entitlement to bonus compensation in all situations.  A fiduciary’s entitlement to a bonus depends on the particular circumstances of the case.  There is a distinction between a principal-agent and employer-employee relationship.  While a principal will not be required to pay an agent commission for transactions that are in breach of a fiduciary duty, an employer is not free to withhold payment of wages due for past performance, even where the past performance may have involved a time when the employee was acting in breach of his fiduciary duty.  In this case, the bonus was significant and non-discretionary – Rossetto was as entitled to the bonus as he was to his salary for the period worked.

Although there may be some situations in which employees in a fiduciary relationship are disentitled to a bonus due to a breach in their duty, employers should be aware that the employee’s breach will not necessarily preclude entitlement to a bonus.

 Mady Development Corp. v. Rossetto: http://canlii.ca/en/on/onca/doc/2012/2012onca31/2012onca31.html

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