Late last year, a former agency manager for Allstate in Milton was terminated after she confronted supervisors about an unwritten managerial directive to stop offering auto insurance policies in Brampton.
Medha Joshi alleged that the directive was discriminatory and motivated by the high number of visible minorities in Brampton’s community.
Joshi says she learned of unwritten rules at Allstate to make selling car insurance policies drivers who live in Brampton more difficult than in other Toronto neighbourhoods, thereby she alleged violating the “all-comers” rule set by the insurance regulator.
Toronto employment lawyer Andrew Monkhouse is representing Joshi who is suing her former employer, Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, for $600,000 in a wrongful dismissal suit and violations of the Ontario Human Rights Code she launched on November 30, 2018. Monkhouse Law is a Toronto employment law firm that specializes in wrongful dismissal, human rights law, labour law, employee class actions, employment insurance claims, and denied long-term disability claims.
In Ontario, insurance companies are bound to follow what is known as the “all-comers rule.” This means that car owners cannot be denied insurance if they meet an established set of criteria approved by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO), regardless of ethnic background.
Now, Allstate Canada launched a counterclaim against Ms. Joshi for $700,000, plus legal costs, for what they claimed were “damages to Allstate’s reputation and goodwill.” It was this counter-suit which was dismissed by Madam Justice Kimmel, in her decision dated July 22, 2019.
An Ontario Superior Court judge has ruled that when companies are alleged to have violated human rights and when employee whistleblowers call attention to discriminatory policies and practices, public interest trumps the interests of private corporations. In dismissing the lawsuit for defamation Justice Kimmel stated: “I am troubled by the cavalier attitude that Allstate has adopted in relation to this cause of action.”
Ms. Joshi’s lawsuit against Allstate can now proceed unimpeded by the counterclaim.
In her decision on Joshi v Allstate, Madam Justice Kimmel wrote that “qualified privilege” means that “…Ms. Joshi had a legal, social or moral duty” and that Ms. Joshi “…felt compelled to speak about what I have concluded is a matter of public interest. She would be one among a relatively small group of people who has knowledge, information and belief about the particular Allstate policy or practice in question.”
This decision is one of the first under the new anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation legislation, also known as a gag proceeding.
“First, this decision expands whistleblower protections in the private sector, especially when it comes to human rights abuses in the public interest. Second, it affirms that corporations cannot intimidate employees who have spoken out about wrong-doing by using outrageous counter-claims. Third, reporters, editors, TV and radio producers, and other journalists may quote directly from a plaintiff’s statement of claim, critical to Canada’s open court system,” said Monkhouse.