A former investment advisor at CIBC in Vancouver is hoping to get back into the advisory business after a British Columbia Supreme Court found she was fired without cause three years ago.
In a decision handed down last week, Justice Randall Wong also found the bank liable for breach of contract with Guiyun (Han) Ogden and ordered costs and damages to be determined at a later trial.
Ogden’s lawyer, Heather Cane, said the result was “incredibly good” and opens the doors for Ogden to return to work as an investment advisor with another firm. “She loved her job. It was like a baby to her. She treated all of her clients well and delivered exceptional service,” Cane says.
Compounding the situation in 2011, Ogden was seven months pregnant when she was terminated, Cane says.
Wong gave little weight to two disciplinary letters Ogden had received from her supervisors in the months prior to her dismissal. “[The managers] forged ahead with a termination for cause based on inaccurate and incomplete information despite knowing they had a heightened responsibility to get it right,” Wong wrote in the judgment.
Ogden was deeply distressed about the letters and considered taking them up the chain of command when she received them but ultimately didn’t. She did, however, talk about leaving the bank because she was so upset.
Wong noted that two of Ogden’s managers, Paula Vanni and Rod Fossen, fired her before she could quit and take her large book of business to a competitor.
The incident that triggered the actual firing involved a panicked client in China who needed to transfer large sums quickly, in order to preserve a real estate deal in Canada. Ogden agreed to use two of her personal accounts to facilitate the transfer.
But the rules about this type of action were unclear, the judgment says. “This was not a case of ‘don’t do x’ and Ms. Ogden did x’. The rule she is alleged to have breached was far from clear, was open to interpretation, and was sometimes confusing in its application. This was also a transaction in which there was no actual conflict of interest, but only a potential conflict of interest.” The judgment also says that, under a unique set of circumstances, Ogden failed to perceive a potential conflict of interest, and that she acted with “the best of intentions.”
Ogden has been unable to work as a financial advisor because CIBC had filed papers with the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) setting out why she was fired with cause.
The regulatory oversight required for Ogden because of the IIROC filing would have made it prohibitively expensive for any firm to hire her, Cane says.
The judge ordered that a correction be made with IIROC, nullifying the filing and its content. Cane says she is awaiting confirmation from CIBC that this has been completed, at which point she’ll notify Ogden that she has the green light to hand out her resume.
Ogden hasn’t been unemployed since her termination. Most recently, she has been working as a mortgage broker at a small firm in Vancouver.
At least one potential employer has already been in contact with Cane about discussing employment possibilities with Ogden. “I’m sure people are interested in her because she’s such a great financial advisor,” Cane says.
Next: Bank could appeal
Bank could appeal
CIBC isn’t out of legal options, however. The bank could appeal the decision to the B.C. Court of Appeal. In his decision, Wong said that, while he found CIBC’s behaviour and actions in dismissing Ogden “cavalier, insensitive and reckless,” he doesn’t believe the bank’s staff acted out of intentional malice to disparage and damage her character or reputation.
“Their corporate mindset was to paper files about employee behaviour and be perceived to have taken action. While its purpose was laudable, (a) hasty and incomplete investigation by management resulted in erroneous conclusions and wrong disciplinary actions taken; in this case with disastrous consequences,” he wrote.
At the time she was let go, Ogden’s book, comprised primarily of Chinese immigrants, was worth $233 million. Because of her strong relationship with them and her knowledge of how business was done in China, Cane says her clients were very loyal. “Had she been able to carry on practising as an investment advisor, she could have walked across the street to another bank and most of her clients would have followed her,” Cane says.
Wong made a couple of other judgments: a finding of liability against CIBC for compensatory damages arising from the breach of the bank’s duty of good faith, which would also include aggravated damages; and a finding of special damages against CIBC.
Ogden’s documented rise to the highest echelon of advisor at CIBC was all the more remarkable considering she immigrated to Canada from China in 2000 with very little English. She then threw herself into her education, graduating with top marks from a business program at Royal Roads University, followed by a pair of professional designations, a Level 2 Certified General Accountant designation and Certified Financial Planner.
She was first hired by CIBC at its University of British Columbia branch in 2004. Two years later, she was promoted to investment advisor. She was given glowing performance reviews and received a number of awards. For her performance in 2009, her then-general manager, David Fawkes, congratulated her on an “absolutely spectacular” year.
“Your commitment to your own excellence shines through in everything you do, from maintaining a well-balanced book of business to providing excellent client service that goes above and beyond what is expected for your role. Your results truly speak for themselves,” he wrote.