Associate’s claims ‘scandalous,’ lawyer responds in dismissal case

A Toronto family lawyer facing a $2-million lawsuit launched by a former associate accusing her of wrongful dismissal is calling the allegations “scandalous” and an “abuse of process.”

“My client’s view is that the allegations in the statement of claim are utter nonsense, the plaintiff has made them knowing she had an absolute privilege concerning false statements set out in the statement of claim, and she knows that her claims cannot be supported,” Melvyn Solmon, counsel for defendant Julie Hannaford, told Law Times.

The plaintiff in the case is Golnaz Simaei. She worked as an associate at Hannaford’s law firm until March 18, when she was “precipitously terminated by e-mail while returning from vacation,” according to her statement of claim.

She alleges the e-mail cited no reason for her dismissal other than a mention of termination “for cause.” None of the allegations have been proven in court.

A portion of Simaei’s claim is for damages for “intentional or, alternatively, negligent infliction of nervous shock.” The statement of claim details Hannaford’s alleged treatment of Simaei, which included yelling, isolating her from clients and other employees, and at times dictating her correspondence with others.

In 2009, Simaei says she resigned from her role after an office clerk and her boyfriend were “permitted by Hannaford to bully and harass” her.

The boyfriend, who was an office manager, sexually harassed, threatened, and videotaped Simaei, according to the statement of claim.

“When the plaintiff resigned, Hannaford cried over the phone, pleading for the plaintiff to change her decision,” Simaei’s statement of claim alleges.

To persuade Simaei to return, Hannaford acknowledged that the firm was a toxic environment and “she promised that she would personally obtain counselling and training if the plaintiff would only return,” according to the statement of claim. Simaei eventually returned to work.

In response to the allegations, Solmon says his client is moving to strike “a significant portion of the statement of claim.” He called the claim “scandalous” and said the allegations “constitute a severe abuse of process.”

“Only after the court’s decision concerning the motion will my clients be able to deliver an appropriate statement of defence in reply to a much-changed statement of claim,” he added.
“At present, the statement of claim is, as a matter of law, incomprehensible.”

Hannaford wasn’t able to file a full defence because the plaintiff’s lawyer didn’t provide documents mentioned in the pleading in a timely manner, adds Solmon, who notes the current defence in the court file is a temporary one.

In the temporary defence, Hannaford denies Simaei’s claims, calling them “irrelevant allegations.”
“The defendants state that the statement of claim is an improper pleading, containing scandalous allegations, frivolous and vexatious claims, evidence, unsubstantiated causes of action and irrelevant allegations,” the statement of defence, signed on May 30, asserts.

“The pleading is an abuse of process and was designed to intimidate.”
Hannaford opened her own family law practice in 2006 after leaving Borden Ladner Gervais LLP.

Since she opened the law firm, at least 33 employees resigned or were terminated, “virtually all because of Hannaford’s abuse,” Simaei alleged in the statement of claim.

“The same pattern characterized
Hannaford’s employment at Borden Laden Gervais LLP and created difficulties for her there, and was at least a factor for her departure in 2006 from that firm,” she further alleged.

Simaei also accuses Hannaford of creating conflict between her and others at the firm. This went as far as dictating antagonistic correspondence to others and making Simaei send them against her wishes, according to the statement of claim.

“Hannaford’s behaviour was frenzied on some occasions, but her mood would then precipitously reverse. Hannaford was often in an inexplicable bad mood with the plaintiff for no discernable reason, without any predictability.”

According to Simaei, Hannaford dismissed her to avoid dealing with “the embarrassment of the plaintiff, [the firm’s] longest-standing associate and employee, resigning.”

Several e-mails from Hannaford followed the dismissal, according to Simaei’s statement of claim. They accused Simaei, it alleges, of stealing Hannaford’s e-mails; threatened to make a complaint against her with the Law Society of Upper Canada; and faulted her for theft of property.

The property in question included a laptop, iPhone, and iPad that Simaei took more than a week to turn over while negotiating the return of her own property, according to the statement of claim.
Hannaford also mentioned the loss of property in her defence.

“The plaintiff did take and refused to return property of the firm,” the statement of defence alleges. “The plaintiff also demanded firm property, improperly.”

The $2-million claim includes damages for wrongful dismissal, infliction of nervous shock, and defamation as well as moral and aggravated damages. According to Solmon, the court will make a determination on the motion to strike part of the statement of claim in December.

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