Business owner ordered to pay ex-bookkeeper almost $24,000

Mark NIELSEN

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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A B.C. Supreme Court Justice has ordered the owner of a Fort St. James business to pay a former employee nearly $24,000 after finding he had fired her without cause, defamed her and had failed to pay back a portion of a loan.

In 2011, Bam Bam Trucking Ltd. owner Bradley Douglas Miller landed contracts to provide various services, such as trucking, water delivery and garbage disposal, to the Mount Milligan mining project and so had to hire many more employees and secure additional equipment.

"This meant that Bam Bam's finances became more complicated," Justice Nitya Iyer said in a reasons for judgment issued Tuesday. "As Mr. Miller had no knowledge of bookkeeping, accounting or human resources, he hired others to assist him."

By September 2013, Esther Hall was brought on board as a bookkeeper. During a trial, Hall testified the books were in a poor state when they were handed over to her and had still been working to address the problem when, in March 2015, Miller terminated her employment.

By that time, the contracts for the mine had ended and the business ran into financial trouble, forcing Miller to downsize and refinance his home. Hall had also issued Miller a series of short-term loans to cover cash flow problems.

In the decision, Iyer found Miller's testimony was not credible - noting in part that he could not recall key facts. By contrast, Hall's evidence was "generally straightforward and clear."

Although Hall made some gratuitous remarks during cross-examination, Iyer found them understandable given she remains angry at Miller.

Iyer dismissed Miller's claim that Hall was negligent, noting the claim rested entirely on the evidence provided by the person who took over the job. He testified the books were in such poor shape that he decided to recreate them from original sources, a project that took about two years.

But he also testified Miller did not tell him about the state of the books prior to Hall taking them over and acknowledged the 2014 records were an improvement over the 2012 versions.

Iyer also found some of the deficiencies attributed to Hall were in fact Miller's fault in the form of missing information and continuing to use a sole proprietorship business number despite being incorporated.

On the wrongful dismissal allegation, Hall testified Miller dismissed her during a phone call in which she told him she could not lend him any more money. Miller said he took the step after his credit union notified him of possible fraudulent activity, but the inquiry letter was dated four weeks after she was fired and was in regards to payroll records dated largely before she had been hired.

For that, Iyer awarded Hall $1,590, representing two weeks wages at the time of her termination, plus a further $3,180 in unpaid wages from the month before.

On the finding that Miller defamed her, Hall's allegation hinged on a phone call he had with the then office manager in which he said words to the effect that Hall had "taken me for over $90,000" leading her to believe Hall had stolen from Miller.

As wellMiller conceded he may have told her that Hall had "ripped me off" and conceded the words were defamatory. Iyer agreed but no evidence was presented to show the remarks had gone beyond the two parties and rewarded Hall $500 on that count.

On the loans, Iyer agreed with Hall's claim she was still owed $18,713.82.

Hall presented to the court 18 cheques she wrote to Bam Bam adding up to $66,070, plus one for $389.89 to cover Miller's personal BC Hydro bill. Iyer also agreed with Hall's claim she had loaned Miller $2,700 shortly before she was fired to covered a certification fee for his airplane.

Miller, in turn, could not provide any details on repayment and his lawyer argued it was up to Hall to prove she had not been repaid $18,713.82.

Iyer disagreed: "If the plaintiffs dispute this figure, it is up to them to lead the necessary evidence. They have not done so."

In all, Miller was ordered to pay Hall $23,983.82.

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