An Okanagan winery is facing a bitter breakup with its former head winemaker.
Elaine Vickers filed a $24,000 lawsuit this week against Blasted Church Vineyards, whose winery is based along Eastside Road north of Okanagan Falls.
According to the lawsuit, Vickers entered into an employment contract with the winery in December 2010, and over time became the winery’s head winemaker. The contract required the winery to provide Vickers with “reasonable notice of termination.”
“At all times, the claimant faithfully and diligently performed her duties on behalf of the defendant and proved herself to be a valuable and reliable employee,” the lawsuit reads.
“On June 6, 2017, the defendant terminated the claimant’s employment without cause. This conduct constituted a breach of the employment contract, entitling the claimant to compensation.”
The two parties reportedly agreed that the winery would continue to pay Vickers for five months, starting on July 16, along with payments toward MSP and private extended health benefits until December.
If Vickers were to obtain employment elsewhere in that time, the winery would then pay Vickers 50 per cent of the remaining pay owed her in a lump sum and cease paying the health benefits.
Vickers’ lawsuit claims Blasted Church, headquartered in Kelowna, continued to pay her following that agreement, but just three months into the agreement, in mid-October, the winery unilaterally ceased further payments.
“The defendant alleged that the claimant had secured ‘alternate employment’ by reason of the fact that the claimant had made wine in a rental facility for her own purposes,” the lawsuit said.
But Vickers said she was not employed, nor did she receive any income, the wine would not be ready until March next year, and she had made the wine “without any commercial ambitions and had made no decision about whether she would sell the wine or give it away to friends and family.”
Despite that claim, the lawsuit alleges Blasted Church did not resume its payments toward Vickers, nor did it pay the 50-per-cent lump sum.
The lawsuit said Vickers had no additional sources of income.
On top of the money Vickers said the winery owes her — claimed to be $11,559.80 — her lawsuit claimed she is “entitled to additional moral damages and damages for the bad faith of the defendant.”
Those moral and bad faith damages are valued even higher than the salary claims, at $12,440.20, adding $176 for filing and service fees, adding up to $24,176.
According to the lawsuit, the winery’s unilateral move “constitutes an independent and actionable wrong and is deserving of condemnation and punishment for which the claimant is entitled to punitive damages.”
The lawsuit said the value of the bad faith and moral damages claim needs to be enough to discourage employers from behaviour similar to that alleged of Blasted Church.
“An employee should not be required to sue her employer to receive the relatively modest remaining benefits she is entitled to under an agreement to provide for salary continuance,” the lawsuit said.
Blasted Church has not filed a response.